Russia issues 89-name EU blacklist, bars politicians

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Moscow has issued a blacklist of European Union politicians barred from Russia in response to EU sanctions over Crimea and Ukraine, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday.

"Russia yesterday handed over a list of people to diverse EU embassies who may not enter Russia any longer," Rutte said at a weekly press conference, adding that two Dutch MPs and a Dutch MEP were on the list.

The list contains 89 names, according to a letter from Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders tweeted by Belgian MEP Mark Demesmaeker.

The letter, which was confirmed as authentic by the foreign ministry to AFP, said Moscow had asked for the list not to be made public.

Moscow issued the list on Thursday in response to the EU's own sanctions and travel bans over Russia's annexation of Crimea last year and its alleged involvement in the eastern Ukraine conflict, Rutte said.

A spokeswoman for the EU diplomatic service in Brussels told AFP that Russia had barred several European politicians from entry in recent months, but had so far refused to provide a list of those targeted.

"We take note that the Russian authorities have decided to share the list. We don't have any other information on legal basis, criteria and process," the spokeswoman said in an email statement.

Guy Verhofstadt, head of the Liberal group in the European Parliament and a former Belgian PM, is also on the list, his spokesman Jeroen Reijnen told AFP.

"Verhofstadt is banned from entry to Russia. He is on a blacklist with around 80 people," Reijnen said, saying the ban came after Verhofstadt called for an independent international probe into the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Rutte said the Dutch government rejected the move and would let "Moscow know so in no uncertain terms".

Russia's list "was not based on international law, was not transparent and could not be challenged" in a court of law, Rutte added.

Berlin on Monday hit out at Moscow after it denied access to German MP Karl-Georg Wellmann, who has strong links to Ukraine, saying the move was "unacceptable".

Wellmann, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU-CSU, heads up the Bundestag's friends of Ukraine group.

German media reports said he was turned back when he arrived at Moscow airport on Sunday, despite having been invited to take part in political discussions.

The Russian authorities put him back on a plane for Berlin and slapped an entry ban on him until 2019, the reports said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin strongly denies backing the insurgency in eastern Ukraine that erupted after a pro-Kremlin president was ousted in February 2014. The fighting has killed more than 6,300 people so far.

The Kremlin hopes a current shaky ceasefire will prompt the European Union to lift some of the more punishing sanctions against Russia in the next few months.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.