West hits out at Moscow over ‘unjustified’ travel ban for EU officials

Russian blacklist contains the names of politicians from Poland, Germany, the UK, the Nordic countries and the Baltic states. Source: Reuters

Russian blacklist contains the names of politicians from Poland, Germany, the UK, the Nordic countries and the Baltic states. Source: Reuters

Following the recent controversy after Russia denied entry to a minister of Germany’s Bundestag at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, Russia has made public a blacklist of EU politicians banned from entering the country, resulting in an angry response from European Union, which says the list is unjustified and has no legal basis.

The standoff between Moscow and the European Union over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis has escalated to a new level after Russia shared with the EU a blacklist of 89 individuals who are banned from entering Russia.

The reaction in Europe, which had asked repeatedly for such information following a series of incidents in which EU politicians were denied entry to Russia on arrival, was outrage, with a number of prominent figures saying that Moscow was acting contrary to international law.

It is reported that the Russian blacklist, which was a response to the sanctions imposed by the EU over Russia’s takeover of Crimea and role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, was shared with the European Union on May 28.

The list mainly contains the names of politicians from Poland, Germany, the UK, the Nordic countries and the Baltic states. Among others, the blacklist features former British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and former Belgium premier Guy Verhofstadt as well as Bruno Le Roux, the leader of the Socialists in France’s National Assembly.

The EU had urged Russia to publish its blacklist following a scandal that erupted after Karl-Georg Wellmann, a minister in the German Bundestag, was denied entry on arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on May 24. As a result, Johannes Singhammer, one of the vice presidents of the Bundestag, canceled a visit to Moscow in protest.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was the first to comment after Russian declassified the list, pointing out to Moscow that its blacklist was “not based on international law, not transparent and cannot be challenged in court.”

In turn, the EU foreign policy service described the Russian list as an "arbitrary and unjustified" measure. A number of European countries also expressed their outrage, with a spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office saying there was no justification for the list: "If Russia's intention is to put pressure on the EU to ease sanctions then this is not the way to do it," she said.


‘Symmetrical response’

Commenting on these allegations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed them as “absurd” and “ridiculous.” He said that the blacklist included the ones who had "most actively” backed what he described as a “coup” in Ukraine, which he said had resulted in “Russians” in Ukraine “being subjected to harassment and discrimination."

Andrei Suzdaltsev, deputy dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, believes that the outrage in Western countries was caused by the very fact that the Russian Federation responded to the sanctions imposed on it.

Suzdaltsev claimed that Moscow’s response was “symmetrical,” despite no indication that any of the individuals named on the blacklist have been involved in any wrongdoing.

"Russia's symmetrical response is categorically not accepted," Suzdaltsev told RBTH, stressing that in his view the EU believes that it has the right to impose such measures, while denying the Russian Federation “the same right.”

In Suzdaltsev’s eyes, the EU's outrage over Russia's list shows that Europe and the United States refuse to establish “an equal dialogue” with Russia: “They believe that it is only possible to speak with Moscow in the language of ultimatums, scandals and demands," he said.

According to Suzdaltsev, the Russian Federation has encountered genuine bewilderment in Europe, which, seeing itself as the “holder of the most important values in the world,” suddenly found itself under the impact of someone else's sanctions.

Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, believes that while the use of blacklists in politics raises a number of questions – concerning the procedure, criteria and conditions for a possible delisting – it still would be "a little hypocritical" to blame it on the Russian Federation in this case, since Moscow was not the first to introduce these lists.


A message from Moscow

The list contains no representatives from a number of European countries, such as Cyprus, Hungary, Austria and Greece, known for their more moderate attitude to Russian policy. "As a matter of fact, it can be considered a certain message to the countries that the Russian Federation maintains good relations with," said Kortunov.

The Russian blacklist can be seen as evidence that Moscow has different approaches to different states of the EU, according to Igor Bunin, head of the Center for Political Technologies: "The countries that are showing greater openness toward Russia are less exposed to sanctions," he said.

What’s behind the blacklist dispute?

The root of the disagreement lies in the differing perceptions toward the sanctions on the part of Moscow and the EU.

The European Union sees the 2014 seizure of Crimea by Russian troops and the subsequent referendum held on secession from Ukraine as contravening international law, thereby justifying the imposition of sanctions. It also accuses Russia of participating in a covert war in eastern Ukraine and supplying rebel fighters there with arms. The EU believes that the Russian travel ban is groundless, since the people named on the blacklist are not perceived to have been involved in the breaking of international law.

The Russian position is that the Crimean referendum was legal and thus no contravention of international law occurred, making the EU sanctions baseless. It also claims that none of its troops are participating in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia sees the travel ban as a legitimate and symmetrical response to the EU travel bans placed on various Russian individuals in 2014.


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