‘Tit-for-tat blacklists won’t harm US-Russia relations’

By IANS/RIA Novosti,

Moscow: Members of both chambers of Russia’s parliament have expressed optimism that the publication of “tit-for-tat” lists of Russian officials banned from entering the US and vice versa would not prove a major setback in US-Russian relations.

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Alexei Mitrofanov, head of the Duma’s committee on information policy, information technology and communications, said there would not be a deterioration in US-Russian relations over the US Magnitsky List.

He said the US administration had come to a compromise by publishing a list of just 18 officials banned from visiting the US or holding assets there.

Leonid Slutsky, head of the Duma’s committee on CIS countries and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party faction, said the absence of high-ranking officials on either country’s list signified a relaxation of tension.

“It goes without saying that in this situation (the release of the Magnitsky List), we will undertake symmetrical measures, but the fact that the US Magnitsky List, like our response, does not include any high-ranking officials, it is still a provocation, but the tension has decreased,” said Slutsky.

Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Federation Council – the upper chamber of parliament – and a member of the United Russia party, said Russia had greeted the publication of the US Magnitsky List with an identical response, but that it did not want relations with Washington to become too tense.

“Russia reacted with a ‘mirror response’. In diplomatic language, that means that we didn’t let the unfriendly gesture by the US go unanswered, but nevertheless, we are not interested in the escalation of tension and inflation of the spirit of ill will in bilateral relations,” he said.

Margelov said he hoped that Monday’s visit to Moscow by Thomas Donilon, US presidential national security advisor, would make it possible “not only not to bury the reset, but to take it to a whole new level”.

His comments were apparently a response to a statement by Alexei Pushkov, head of the Duma’s international affairs committee, who said that the Magnitsky Act effectively “buries the idea and the concept” of the so-called “reset” policy of US-Russia ties undertaken by Obama and then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in 2009.

Political analysts also remained positive.

Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies and a member of the Public Chamber, said he did not think the publication of the lists would lead to a worsening of relations between the two countries.

“(The Russian list) is totally on a par (with the US list) both in terms of the number of officials and their seniority,” he said.

Sergei Karaganov, a member of Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council and honorary chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, agreed that Russia’s reaction had been symmetrical to the US gesture.

“Our response abides 100 percent by the principles of symmetry that are employed in international diplomatic practice,” he said, adding that he hoped the two sides would stop “slinging mud at each other”.

The US Friday released the names of 18 Russians to be slapped with visa and financial sanctions under the controversial Magnitsky Act, which punishes Russians that Washington deems complicit in human rights abuses.

Moscow has repeatedly chided the US for pushing through the Magnitsky legislation and warned that publishing the list of sanctioned officials would harm US-Russia ties.

The Magnitsky Act was signed into law by US President Barack Obama Dec 14 and is ostensibly designed to punish officials believed to be connected to the death in a Moscow jail of whistle-blowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009.

The scope of the legislation was later broadened to cover a whole range of suspected rights abusers.

The officials named on the list are barred from travelling to the US and any assets they own there will be frozen.

On Saturday, Russia published its own retaliatory list of US officials banned from entering Russia.

Like the US list, the Russian list comprises 18 names.

They are all described on the list as either having been connected with the US’ infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, which has seen numerous allegations of abuse and torture by prisoners and rights groups, or as having violated the rights of Russians abroad.