The European Union has slammed Russia's decision to impose a travel ban on 89 European politicians over their criticism of Moscow's handling of the Ukraine crisis. Those banned said they were proud of their stance.
The previously undisclosed list, which was revealed to European diplomats on Thursday, bars 89 European Union politicians and military leaders from entering Russia. The move is said to be in response to EU sanctions placed on Moscow over Crimea and Ukraine.
"The answers to the demands of several European states, why it was precisely these people who entered into the list … is simple: It was done in answer to the sanctions campaign which has been waged in relation to Russia by several states of the European Union headed by Germany," a Russian foreign ministry official told the TASS news agency on condition of anonymity.
Germany and the EU officials hit back at Moscow's decision. "We consider this measure as totally arbitrary and unjustified, especially in the absence of any further clarification and transparency," said an EU foreign affairs spokeswoman on Saturday.
A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office also lashed out at Russia and said there was no justification for the travel ban.
"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.
An estimated two million people have fled the fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces. Some 1.2 million have remained in Ukraine. The Ukraine crisis has brought relations between the West and Russia to the lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
Badge of honor
Blacklisted European politicians say they are proud about being banned by Russia.
"Those who try to censor us and make us scared for standing up for values deserve even more criticism. For me it's about being very committed to standing up for peace and freedom in Ukraine," Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, whose name is on the list, told the AFP news agency.
Corazza Bildt added that the ban gives her "determination to continue."
"I'm more proud than scared and this gives me more determination to continue...If the Kremlin takes me and my colleagues seriously, it means we are doing a good job," she said.
Karl Schwarzenberg, former Czech foreign minister and a fierce critic of Russia's policies in Ukraine, also confirmed he was among the blacklisted politicians.
"When I saw the other names (on the list), I found out I was in a very decent club. I consider this a reward," he was quoted as saying by news agency CTK.
Other names in the list include that of Guy Verhofstadt, head of the Liberal group in the European Parliament and a former Belgian PM, and Sweden's former centre-right culture minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth.
Nine Britons are said to be on the Russian list too, including the chief of the MI5 intelligence agency, Andrew Parker, the head of the armed forces Nick Houghton, former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, and former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.
Russia has imposed travel restrictions on seven Germans, according to daily newspaper Bild. Michael Fuchs, vice-president of the national parliament's conservative CDU-CSU group, and Franco-German former MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit are on the list.
shs/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP)