MOSCOW – Russia on Saturday banned 18 Americans from entering the country in response to Washington imposing sanctions on 18 Russians for alleged human rights violations.
The list released by the Foreign Ministry includes John Yoo, a former U.S. Justice Department official who wrote legal memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques; David Addington, the chief of staff for former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney; and two former commanders of the Guantanamo Bay detention center: retired Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and Adm. Jeffrey Harbeson.
The move came a day after the U.S. announced its sanctions under the Magnitsky Law, named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested in 2008 for tax evasion after accusing Russian police officials of stealing $230 million in tax rebates. He died in prison the next year, allegedly after being beaten and denied medical treatment.
The U.S. State Department released a statement Saturday in response to Russia's latest decision.
"As we've said many times before, the right response by Russia to the international outcry over Sergey Magnitsky's death would be to conduct a proper investigation and hold those responsible for his death accountable, rather than engage in tit-for-tat retaliation," according to the statement.
Neither Washington nor Moscow put high-ranking or politically prominent figures on their lists, perhaps aiming to limit the effect on U.S.-Russian relations that have deteriorated, despite President Barack Obama's initiative to "reset" relations with Moscow.
The Magnitsky law infuriated Russian authorities, and parliament quickly passed a retaliatory measure than banned Americans from adopting Russian children. Russia also has banned U.S. funding for any non-governmental organization deemed to be engaging in politics.
"I think that both sides showed a definite restraint because in Washington and in Moscow there were hotheads demanding to inflate the list to an unthinkable size," parliament member Vyacheslav Nikonov, who focuses on foreign affairs, was quoted as saying by the news agency Interfax.
The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying there also is a "closed part" of the list of banned Americans and that the U.S. knows of its existence. The U.S. law in turn allows the administration to compile a separate classified list of Russian officials subject to visa bans.
The public U.S. list includes Artem Kuznetsov and Pavel Karpov, two Russian Interior Ministry officers who put Magnitsky behind bars after he accused them of stealing $230 million from the state. Two tax officials the lawyer accused of approving the fraudulent tax refunds, and several other Interior Ministry officials accused of persecuting Magnitsky, also were on the list. Absent were senior officials from Russian President Vladimir Putin's entourage whom some human rights advocates had hoped to see sanctioned.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement Saturday that the U.S. sanctions struck "a strong blow to bilateral relations and joint trust."
Also on Russia's list are 14 Americans whom Russia says violated the rights of Russians abroad. It does not give specifics of the alleged violations, but includes several current or former federal prosecutors in the case of Viktor Bout, the Russian arms merchant sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for selling weapons to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist group.
A federal judge, one FBI agent and four U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents also are on the list. Some of them were involved in the case of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted for drug smuggling.
"It's important that the criteria on which the Russian list was composed differ fundamentally from the Americans'. On the Russian list, including the closed part, are people actually responsible for the legalization of torture and indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantanamo, for arrests and unjust sentences for our countrymen," Ryabkov was quoted as saying.