MOSCOW — Moscow said on Saturday that Washington had dealt a severe blow to relations by barring 18 Russians from the United States over alleged human rights abuses, and in retaliation banned 18 Americans from entering Russia.
The Obama administration issued a list of 18 people subject to visa bans and asset freezes in the United States under the Magnitsky Act legislation passed by Congress late last year.
"Under pressure from Russophobic members of the U.S. Congress, a powerful blow has been dealt to bilateral relations and mutual trust," the Russian Foreign Ministry said, calling the U.S. list an "unfriendly step."
The Americans barred from Russia include two officials from the era of President George W. Bush's administration who the Ministry said were linked to torture, and two former commanders of the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base.
They also include law enforcement authorities involved in the prosecution of Viktor Bout, a Russian arms trader serving a 25-year U.S. prison sentence after being arrested in Thailand, and of a Russian sentenced to 20 years on drug-trafficking charges.
"The war of lists is not our choice, but we have no right not to respond to blatant blackmail," the Foreign Ministry said.
"It is high time for politicians in Washington to finally realize that it is futile to build relations with a country like Russia in a spirit of mentoring and outright diktat," it said in a statement.
The U.S. list included 16 people related to the case of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, whose death in jail in 2009 underscored the risks of challenging the Russian state and deepened Western concerns about rights and the rule of law in Russia.
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