Kremlin blacklist of EU politicians is 'tit-for-tat reaction' to Western sanctions, says Lib Dem source after Nick Clegg banned

Ban on politicians including Nick Clegg is seen as a tit-for-tat response to Western sanctions

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Britain has joined the rest of Europe in expressing outrage at the Kremlin’s decision to ban 89 EU politicians, military leaders and critics from entering Russia in what was seen as a tit-for tat-response to Western sanctions against Moscow over its intervention in the Ukraine.

Those on the Kremlin’s blacklist include the outgoing Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, British defence minister Philip Dunne, former British Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary-General of the Council of the EU, Uwe Corsepius, and opponents of Moscow such as the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Moscow supplied the “confidential” blacklist to an EU delegation in the Russian capital last week, after the EU had repeatedly asked to see it.

The ban comes amid continuing tension between the West and Russia over Moscow’s alleged support for separatists fighting the government in eastern Ukraine.

The British Foreign Office condemned the measure and said Moscow had failed to provide any legal basis for the list or the names on it.

“If Russia thinks this action will cause the EU to change its position on sanctions, it is wrong,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said. “The way for Russia to get the sanctions lifted is to remove its troops from the Ukraine.” The EU described the list as “totally arbitrary and unjustified” and said that no legal basis or criteria had been given for the decision.

The eight Britons on the list included MI5’s director- general, Andrew Parker, the former M16 chief, Sir John Sawers, and the chief of the defence staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton. The document also included the names of outspoken Kremlin critics, some of whom have been turned away from Russia in recent months.

 

A Liberal Democrat source said Mr Clegg had taken a “leading role” in Britain’s response to Russian aggression in the Ukraine during the last government. “We are not certain, but we can only assume the entry ban is a tit-for-tat reaction to that,” he told The Independent.

Sir Malcom Rifkind, an ardent supporter of sanctions against Moscow, said he was “rather proud” to be on the list and added that it suggested that the sanctions were working. “It shows that they are making an impact because they wouldn’t have reacted unless they felt very sore at what had happened,” he told the BBC.

A leaked version of the full list appeared online in Germany. A Russian Foreign Ministry official would not confirm the names of those barred, but said the ban was a response to EU sanctions against Russia which have been in force since the Kremlin annexation of Crimea in March 2014. Russia was reported to have compiled a similar list for US citizens.

The West’s sanctions have resulted in a travel ban on leading Russian figures close to President Vladimir Putin, and have been extended amid continuing fighting between government troops and pro- Russian separatists in the eastern Ukraine.

The Russian Foreign Ministry official, who declined to be named, was quoted as saying: “Why it was precisely these people who entered into the list is simple: it was done in answer to the sanctions campaign which has been waged in relation to Russia by several states of the European Union.”

He added: “Just one thing remains unclear: did our European co-workers want these lists to minimise inconveniences for potential ‘denied persons’ or to stage another political show?”

Dmitry Gudkov, the only Russian MP regularly to challenge the Kremlin, argued that Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, should have drawn up the blacklist “transparently and in consultation with parliament”. However, his calls were brusquely rebuffed by a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, who asked: “Was he this active when the EU put together its blacklists?”

EU politicians and officials on the list included the former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and the EU’s former enlargement chief Stefan Fule. Eight Swedes were reported to be on the list. One, the Swedish MEP Anna Maria Corazza Bildt, said she was “more proud than scared” by her inclusion. “If the Kremlin takes me and my colleagues seriously, it means we are doing a good job,” she said.

Other countries with names on he list included Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania Estonia, Denmark, Finland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria and Spain.

Suspicions that the Kremlin had drawn up a blacklist of so-called “EU undesirables” intensified after German conservative MP Karl-Georg Wellmann, was detained at Moscow airport and ordered to return to Germany. Mr Wellmann, who had been due to discuss the Ukraine with Russian officials, said he was shown a document in English banning him from Russia.

In Germany it was noted that the Moscow blacklist had emerged only days before Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to host next weekend’s G7 summit of world leaders in Elmau, with Mr Putin conspicuously struck off the guest list.

German business leaders criticised the decision. Eckhard Cordes, the chairman of the German Industry Association eastern committee argued: “A G7 with Russia could contribute to a solution to the crisis and persuade Russia to take constructive steps in the Ukraine conflict. It is always better to talk with somebody than about them.”

In the Ukraine there was no indication yesterday that violations of a fragile ceasefire which was agreed last February would be halted. In a development destined to inflame the crisis further, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has appointed former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili as governor of Ukraine’s Odessa province. He described Mr Saakashvili, who went to war against Russia in 2008, as a “great friend of the Ukraine”.

Who's who on Putin's blacklist

Sir Malcolm Rifkind Conservative former Foreign Secretary who has been strongly in favour of sanctions against Moscow since the Russian annexation of Crimea. He says he is “rather proud” to be on the Kremlin’s blacklist.

Edward McMillan-Scott Former MEP who has condemned President Vladimir Putin. He was first banned from Russia in 1972 when, as a tour guide, he showed visitors former churches and synagogues in what was then Leningrad. He said being on the list was the “best thing” since he stepped down as an MEP.

Hans Georg Wellmann Leading German conservative MP who earlier this year called Russia a “warmonger”. He was due to discuss the Ukraine with Russian officials but was refused entry at Moscow airport last week. He said he suspected he was on a list of EU “undesirables”.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit Former German Green Party MEP and leader of the French 1968 student protest movement has strongly criticised Russia’s actions in Ukraine. He has suggested a boycott of the 2018 World Cup, which is to be hosted by Russia.

Karel Schwarzenberg Former Czech Foreign Minister. He said: “When I saw the other names on the list, I found out I was in a very decent club.”

Bernard-Henri Levy French philosopher who backed Ukraine’s anti-Russian protest movement and has staged a play in Kiev criticising Moscow. He has said: “Most people are disgusted by Putin’s mischief.”

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