MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has drawn up a list of U.S. officials to be barred from entering the country in response to U.S. visa restrictions imposed on Russian officials over the death of a lawyer, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.
If the report by the business daily Kommersant is confirmed, the decision will be the latest of several signs in the past few weeks that the “reset” aimed at improving U.S.-Russian relations under U.S. President Barack Obama is under threat.
“In the case of the United States we will simply put a cross next to the names of those who are not wanted. When a person applies for a visa at a Russian consulate he will be rejected,” a Foreign Ministry source told Kommersant.
Reuters could not immediately reach the Foreign Ministry for comment but Interfax news agency quoted a ministry source as saying Russia was still working on its response.
“There could be lists of Americans barred from entering Russia, but the issue is still being worked on,” the source told Interfax.
The U.S. State Department said last month it had placed visa restrictions on Russian officials accused of involvement in the death of hedge fund lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison as he awaited trial on tax evasion and fraud charges in 2009.
The Kremlin’s human rights council said the 37-year-old lawyer, who represented Hermitage Capital equity fund, was possibly beaten to death. His colleagues say the charges were fabricated by police investigators he had accused of cheating the state through fraudulent tax returns.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said last month the U.S. visa restrictions were unjustified and that it would respond with “adequate measures,” but gave no details.
Kommersant said the ministry had now drawn up a visa blacklist which included U.S. officials linked to the cases of an alleged Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, and an alleged Russian drug smuggler, Konstantin Yaroshenko.
Yaroshenko was convicted of conspiracy to smuggle drugs to the United States in April, following his arrest by U.S. Special forces in the Liberian capital of Monrovia in May last year.
Bout, who was extradited from Thailand to the United States last November, is awaiting a hearing on charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and to provide help to a group deemed a terrorist organization by the United States.
He has denied the charges
“Our claims against the United States are much broader and are not limited to the Bout and Yaroshenko cases. We have a list of cases regarding the violation of Russian citizens’ rights,” one of the Foreign Ministry sources told Kommersant.
Obama’s calls for improved relations between the former Cold War foes, following the strains in ties during George W. Bush’s presidency, have raised hopes of better cooperation over missile defense and Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization.
But relations have come under threat in the past few weeks.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described the United States as a “parasite” on the global economy and President Dmitry Medvedev criticized “senile” U.S. senators for urging Moscow to withdraw troops from breakaway regions in Georgia.
Even so, Obama has portrayed the “reset” as one of his biggest diplomatic achievements and told Russian reporters this month that Putin had been fully supportive of the process.
Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alistair Lyon