Russia has placed entry bans on eight officials from EU states, including members of the European Parliament and the European Commission. The move comes after the EU hit Russian officials with sanctions in March.
Russia has placed entry bans on eight officials from EU states, including European Parliament President David Sassoli and European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
"The European Union continues its policy of unilateral illegitimate restrictive measures targeting Russian citizens and organizations," the ministry said in a statement.
Berlin's chief state prosecutor Jörg Raupach was also among those barred from entering Russia.
What triggered the entry bans?
In March, the EU placed sanctions on two Russians accused of persecuting gay and lesbian people in Chechnya. The 27-member bloc last month also imposed sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin due to the jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
"Only in March 2021, six Russians were subjected to unlawful entry restrictions," the Russian Foreign Ministry continued in its statement. "This practice contradicts the UN Charter and the basic norms of international law. It is accompanied by anti-Russian hysteria, deliberately spread by Western media."
Russia did not provide an explanation for why the government targeted these specific individuals with entry bans. Sassoli and Jourova have criticized the Kremlin for its treatment of Navalny and disinformation campaigns online.
How have European officials responded to the entry bans?
European officials have widely condemned the new sanctions from Russia.
"We condemn in the strongest possible terms today's decision of the Russian authorities to ban eight European Union nationals from entering the Russian territory," a statement from the heads of the European Council, Commission and Parliament said. "This action is unacceptable, lacks any legal justification and is entirely groundless. It targets the European Union directly, not only the individuals concerned."
Sassoli said the Kremlin's decision would not stop him from "defending human rights, freedom, and democracy."
Guy Verhofstadt, a member of European Parliament, said the EU should take a harder stance against Putin in response to the entry bans.
"How much worse does this need to get before the EU goes beyond symbolic sanctions and hits out around the oligarchs around Putin?" Verhofstadt tweeted.
"If these tactics are intended to intimidate our institutions into silence, Russia should know they will have the opposite effect," Roberta Metsola, another member of European Parliament, said about Moscow's decision on Twitter, adding the hashtag #FreeNavalny.
Russia's Navalny appears in public - Aaron Tilton reports
What are the major disputes between the EU, Russia?
European countries such as Germany and France have condemned a Russian court decision in February to sentence Kremlin critic Navalny to 2 1/2 years in prison. The EU has also expressed concerns over Navalny's health in jail and blamed Russian authorities for not allowing him to receive outside medical treatment.
The EU's relationship with Moscow has also been tense in recent in months due to Russia's military buildup near the border of Ukraine.