Russia bars eight EU citizens in sanctions retaliation

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The European Union flags flutter ahead of the gas talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

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MOSCOW, April 30 (Reuters) - Russia on Friday barred eight officials from European Union countries from entering the country in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russian citizens by the EU.

Russia's foreign ministry said those banned included Vera Jourova, vice president for values and transparency at the executive European Commission, David Sassoli, the president of the European parliament, and Jacques Maire, a member of the French delegation at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.

"The European Union continues to pursue its policy of illegitimate, unilateral restrictive measures against Russian citizens and organisations," the ministry said in a statement.

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It accused the EU of "openly and deliberately" undermining the independence of Russia's domestic and foreign policy.

Sassoli, Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council chief Charles Michel said in a joint statement they condemned Russia's "unacceptable" action in "the strongest possible terms" and said it showed Moscow had chosen a path of confrontation with the bloc.

"The EU reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response to the Russian authorities’ decision," they said

Sassoli said in a tweet that no sanctions or intimidation would stop the parliament or him defending human rights, freedom and democracy.

"Threats will not silence us. As Tolstoy wrote, there is no greatness where there is no truth," his tweet read.

Russia banned three officials from the Baltic states: Ivars Abolins, chairman of Latvia's National Electronic Media Council, Maris Baltins, director of the Latvian State Language Center, and Ilmar Tomusk, head of Estonia's Language Inspectorate.

It also banned Jorg Raupach, Berlin's public prosecutor, and Asa Scott of the Swedish Defence Research Agency.

Scott was among officials who said Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny had been poisoned in Russia with a Soviet-era nerve agent.

Navalny recovered from the poisoning in Germany and was detained upon his return to Russia in January, and sentenced in February to 2-1/2 years in prison for parole violations on an earlier embezzlement conviction that he says was politically motivated.

The EU imposed sanctions in March on two Russians accused of persecuting gay and lesbian people in the southern Russian region of Chechnya. The EU also imposed sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin in March.

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Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Timothy Heritage

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