Moscow outraged as US restricts Russian upper house chair’s visa for intl conference in NYC

Chair of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko © Vladimir Fedorenko
Washington has derailed Russian plans to take part in an inter-parliamentary conference at UN headquarters by issuing a highly restrictive visa to the head of Russia’s delegation, upper house chair Valentina Matviyenko, the Foreign Ministry said.

Matviyenko, who is the chair of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, and the country’s highest-ranking female politician, was invited to attend the Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) – an international group founded in 1889, which closely works with the UN. She was also going to take part in the IPU’s 10th Meeting of Women Speakers of Parliament that precedes the event, scheduled for August 31 – September 2.

However, when Matviyenko received her “long-delayed” US entry visa, she discovered that it contained restrictions that basically said she was not allowed “to participate in all meetings and other events held by the Inter-Parliamentary Union,” the Foreign Ministry said.

“The visa contains a number of unacceptable restrictions on Valentina Matviyenko’s stay in the United States,” the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that it was “outraged” by the decision that has “disrupted” the Russian delegation’s trip.

According to the ministry, the American actions “constitute a flagrant violation of universally accepted norms of international law and are contrary to the obligations of countries hosting multilateral forums on their territory.”

“The actions of Washington, which presents itself as nothing short of the chief protector of democracy and the freedom of speech in the world, in fact block the possibility to lay out different approaches to that of American political directives and priorities,” the statement added.

Notably, Matviyenko and at least one other member of the Russian delegation are on the US sanction list. The US has imposed a number of sanctions, including entry bans, on Russia since 2014, stemming from its accusations that Moscow is a protagonist and participant in the current conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia has continuously denied western allegations of meddling in its southern neighbor’s internal affairs.

The US is, however, under obligation to the United Nations to admit individuals to the country for the purpose of participating in UN events. As Matviyenko’s schedule reportedly included taking part in one such event at UN headquarters, Washington had to issue a visa, said, citing a US diplomatic source.

But the US maintains this law does not evenly apply to all conferences held in the UN building. While the Geneva-based IPU has observer status at the UN and the two have agreed on cooperation, it is not part of the United Nations and, technically, neither are its events.

READ MORE: EU, US impose sanctions against Russian officials after Crimea referendum

There were earlier reports that Matviyenko, who is included in the US sanctions list, could be denied a US visa altogether, despite having been invited to the event. What she was issued in the end was a travel permit restricting her to a 25-mile circle around UN headquarters – the same type of visa that has previously been issued to “undesirable” Iranian and North Korean diplomats taking part in UN events.

In response to the US decision, some members of the Russian upper house have proposing counter-measures, to the extent of expanding the anti-US sanctions list to include Secretary of State John Kerry and his deputies.

“Russia needs to expand its sanctions list at the expense of people behind the visa decision… which runs counter to the fundamentals of international law – Secretary of State John Kerry and his deputies,” Federation Council member Igor Morozov told RIA Novosti. 

Meanwhile, another outspoken female Russian MP, Irina Yarovaya, called Washington’s move a “cowardly offense,” saying that in the end the US hadn’t dared to refuse a visa to a prominent representative of a sovereign state, but instead stooped to issuing it on humiliating terms.