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Russia releases travel ban blacklist

Russia has published a blacklist of 89 European Union politicians and military leaders banned from the country. The move is said to be in response to EU sanctions placed on Moscow over Crimea and Ukraine.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte used a weekly press conference on Friday to announce that two Dutch parliamentarians and a Dutch member of the European Parliament were on Russia's blacklist.

“Russia yesterday [Thursday] handed over a list of people to diverse EU embassies who may not enter Russia any longer,” Rutte said.

According to a letter from Belgium's Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, the list contains 89 names, Belgium MEP Mark Demesmaeker tweeted.

The Dutch foreign ministry confirmed the letter was genuine, adding that Russia had requested the letter not be made public.

Moscow created the list in response to EU imposed sanctions and travel bans over Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its supposed involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Rutte said.

An unnamed spokesperson for the EU diplomatic service in Brussels said Russia had banned several European politicians in recent months from entering the country, but that they had so far refused to provide a list of those targeted.

“We take note that the Russian authorities have decided to share the list. We don't have any other information on legal basis, criteria and process,” the woman told the AFP news agency in a statement.

Head of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, and former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstaft, has also been blacklisted, his spokesperson Jeroen Reijen said.

“Verhofstadt is banned from entry to Russia. He is on a blacklist with around 80 people,” Reijen said, adding the ban came after the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) called for an independent international investigation into the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry confirmed eight of its citizens were also on the list, but did not make public any names.

“It is very striking behavior which, unfortunately, does not improve Russia's image and we have asked for a clarification for this conduct,” the country's foreign minister Margot Wallstroem was quoted by the Swedish TT news agency as saying.

Finland's public broadcaster, YLE, reported Greens party MEP Heidi Hautala was also on the list of those banned from entering Russia.

Rutte said meanwhile his government rejected Russia's action and would “let Moscow know in no uncertain terms.”

The list, Rutte added, “was not based on international law, was not transparent and could not be challenged in a court of law.”

Germany demanded Russia make the list public as well as how it could be legally contested.

“The (German) government expects the Russian authorities to publish any ‘barred' list as well as the judicial means of contesting it,” the country's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Saturday criticized the travel restrictions, describing them as not "particularly clever."

German MP refused entry

Last Sunday, Russia refused entry to German parliamentarian Karl-Georg Wellmann who has strong links to Ukraine despite his invitation to participate in political discussions.

German media reported that Russian authorities put him back on a plane bound for Berlin and placed an entry ban on him until 2019.

“In Wellmann's case, the German government will demand transparency and legal rights for each comparable case,” Berlin said on Friday.

In light of Wellmann's entry refusal, Moscow's deputy foreign minister Alexei Meshkov said Russia could think about making the names on the list public.

“We feel that our policy aimed at protecting the personal information of those on the list of those being barred from entering Russia is better than that of our Western partners of shouting names from the rooftops,” Russian news agencies reported him as saying.

Anyone who believes they may be banned from entering the country is able to go to a Russian embassy to find out, Meshkov added.

jlw/jil (AFP, Reuters)

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