Russia introduces US visa blacklist in lawyer row

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Russia said Saturday it had put high-ranking US officials implicated in "human rights crimes" on a visa black list, saying that list would grow if Washington continues to put pressure on Moscow.

Washington had earlier outraged Moscow by banning visas for an unspecified number of Russian officials linked to the 2009 death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, which became a symbol of abuses in the Russian judicial system.

The Russian foreign ministry released a statement Saturday saying it had made good on its earlier promise to put together its own list in response to "political provocation" against Russia.

"Relying on the principle of reciprocity, a list of US nationals whose stay in Russia is deemed undesirable has been put together," the foreign ministry said.

Moscow accused Washington of "moralising" and reeled off a number of what it said were US rights violations such as "uninvestigated murders of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan" and "indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantanamo."

The list "contains high-ranking Washington officials implicated in the aforementioned high-profile human rights crimes," said the foreign ministry without providing any names.

The statement warned that if Washington continued to put pressure on Moscow, the list would be expanded to include more US officials.

"A line has not been drawn -- if the US side continues on its path of visa confrontation we will be forced to expand that list," the statement said.

Moscow released the foreign ministry statement as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was visiting Tajikistan, her first visit to the impoverished Central Asian nation to be followed by a trip to neighboring Uzbekistan.

Many analysts expect US-Russia ties to deteriorate in the coming months as Russia's tough-talking Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is set to reclaim the presidency in March presidential polls.

Earlier this week Putin went on national television, telling his foreign critics to "mind your own business" and warning against outside interference in his country's domestic affairs.

© 2011 AFP

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