Kremlin perplexed over US plans to slap visa ban on Russian officials

Dmitry Medvedev’s press secretary has said that the US decision to issue a visa ban for certain Russian officials was bewildering, but the president ordered an adequate response nonetheless.

­“We were perplexed by the State Department’s position, which chose not to wait for the final results of the investigation and a decision by the Russian court, and instead assumed such unusual responsibilities. Even in the most difficult years of the Cold War, such measures were not taken,” Russia’s daily Interfax quoted presidential press secretary Natalia Timakova as saying. The official added that the president had charged the Russian Foreign Ministry with the task of preparing the introduction of similar measures against US citizens.

Previously, the Russian Foreign Ministry had criticized the US decision to issue visa bans to those included on the so-called “Magnitsky list” – Russian police, prosecutors and prison officials who could allegedly be responsible for the tragic death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The official statement by the ministry reads that the US measures would not go unanswered.

Any state has the right to deny entry to its territory without giving an explanation, but using such punitive measures for the citizens of other countries is inadmissible, the Russian ministry said. “This is a tool of the past, the policy of labeling and dictating that has proven to be bankrupt” the statement reads.

In addition, the Russian Foreign Ministry pointed out that the US side is taking measures before the results of the official investigation are prepared and made public. The US side is well informed about the steps Russia is taking to investigate the circumstances of Sergei Magnitsky’s death, and thus the political games that the US executive power is allowing itself to be dragged into are cause for concern, the statement reads.

The Russian Ministry also called the move of the US State Department a hostile move, and promised to take retaliatory measures.

Magnitsky, a thirty-seven-year-old lawyer who had worked for a major foreign investment fund, died from heart failure in November 2009 while in a Moscow pre-trial detention center. He was being investigated in a major tax evasion case.

The lawyer’s death caused outrage among the top managers of the Hermitage Capital Management fund where he had worked, especially from Bill Browder, the fund’s head. Investors launched a major PR campaign in Russia and abroad, accusing certain Russian officials from the police, the justice ministry, and the tax ministry of corruption and embezzlement.
Due to public interest, the Russian President had to intervene, ordering an additional probe into the case. As a result, several top officials from the justice ministry were sacked, as Russian legislation was amended so that people suspected of economic crimes could not be incarcerated prior to standing trial.