Russia bans 18 Americans after similar US move

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia on Saturday banned 18 Americans from entering the country in response to Washington imposing sanctions on 18 Russians for alleged human rights violations.

The list released by the Foreign Ministry includes Mr John Yoo, a former US Justice Department official who wrote legal memos authorising harsh interrogation techniques; Mr David Addington, the chief of staff for former US Vice-President Dick Cheney; and two former commanders of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre: retired Major-General Geoffrey Miller and Admiral Jeffrey Harbeson.

The move came a day after the United States announced its sanctions under the Magnitsky Law, named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested in 2008 for tax evasion after accusing Russian police officials of stealing US$230 million (S$285 million) in tax rebates. He died in prison the next year, allegedly after being beaten and denied medical treatment.

The US State Department released a statement on Saturday in response to Russia's latest decision.

"As we've said many times before, the right response by Russia to the international outcry over Sergey Magnitsky's death would be to conduct a proper investigation and hold those responsible for his death accountable, rather than engage in tit-for-tat retaliation," according to the statement.

Neither Washington nor Moscow put high-ranking or politically prominent figures on their lists, perhaps aiming to limit the effect on US-Russian relations that have deteriorated, despite President Barack Obama's initiative to "reset" relations with Moscow.

The Magnitsky law infuriated Russian authorities, and Parliament quickly passed a retaliatory measure then banned Americans from adopting Russian children. Russia also has banned US funding for any non-governmental organization deemed to be engaging in politics.

"I think that both sides showed a definite restraint because in Washington and in Moscow there were hotheads demanding to inflate the list to an unthinkable size," Parliament member Vyacheslav Nikonov, who focuses on foreign affairs, was quoted as saying by the news agency Interfax.