Russia bans EU officials as spat over Navalny jailing escalates
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The EU has condemned a move by Russia to bar eight high-ranking officials from entering the country and warned it could respond in kind. It is the latest row in connection to the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who the EU says must be released.
"This action is unacceptable, lacks any legal justification and is entirely groundless. It targets the European Union directly, not only the individuals concerned," a joint statement from the heads of the European Council, Commission and Parliament said on Friday, adding "the EU reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response".
Moscow said its move was a response to sanctions imposed by the European Council against four top Russian security officials over the jailing of Alexei Navalny and the violent police response to protests in his support.
"Such actions by the European Union leave no doubt that their true goal is to restrain the development of our country at any cost," Russia's foreign ministry said.
In March the EU barred high-ranking officials from entering the bloc and froze their assets, including head of the Investigative Committee of Russia Alexander Bastrykin and Russia's general prosecutor Igor Krasnov.
On the list of officials barred by Russia; European Parliament President David Sassoli of Italy and Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova of the Czech Republic.
"This means that the European Parliament has done its duty in defending fundamental freedoms in denouncing violations of the rule of law in Russia and in many countries around the world," Sassoli told Italian television on Friday, adding that the ban amounted to a "political attack".
"But we will not be intimidated: we will continue to say that Alexei Navalny must be released," he added, promising an "adequate response" from Europe.
Navalny, 44, is serving a two-and-a-half year sentence in a penal colony outside Moscow for violating parole terms on old fraud charges that he says are politically motivated.
Sweden, Germany targeted by ban
Officials from France and Germany, as well as Baltic states Estonia and Latvia were also barred.
Germany said the measures taken by the Russian Federation were "unfounded" and would not help ties.
One Latvian official, Ivars Abolins, supported his country's decision to drop several Russian television channels in February.
Another official on the list, Asa Scott of the Swedish Defence Research Agency, helped confirm last year that Navalny was poisoned by the Soviet-era Novichok nerve toxin in August.
The opposition figure says the poisoning was orchestrated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a claim the Kremlin denies.
French special rapporteur on list
"It has no effect on my mission concerning the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny," Maire told AFP, adding: "On the other hand, the Russians are now in a more difficult position to be able to cooperate."
Navalny's arrest on his return to Russia in January from Germany, where he had spent months recovering the poisoning, has helped plunge Moscow's relations with the West to near Cold War levels.
The European Union and the United States have imposed a series of sanctions on Russia over the poisoning and jailing of the critic.
These latest sanctions come as several Western capitals have expelled Russian diplomats -- moves Russia has almost systematically answered with their own expulsions.
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