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Russia, E.U. tussle over ‘Magnitsky list’ visa restrictions

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso attend a news conference after the EU-Russia Summit in Yekaterinburg, on June 4, 2013. (RIA NOVOSTI/REUTERS)

Russian and European Union officials meeting at a summit Tuesday discussed liberalizing visa rules for many Russians, an issue that brought objections from politicians concerned about human rights abuses.

Russia wants 15,000 government employees who have official passports to be given the right to enter Europe without visas, but some members of the European Parliament say that would give human rights violators free entry as well. On Tuesday, as the summit was taking place in Yekaterinburg, nearly 50 parliament members sent a letter to E.U. foreign and interior ministers saying they would oppose the agreement unless it came with a list of excluded officials.

The letter was in support of a European version of the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which imposes visa sanctions on Russians associated with the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in jail after he accused police and tax officials of a $230 million tax fraud.

In a vote last October, the European Parliament urged E.U. countries to adopt their own “Magnitsky lists,” which none has done so far. Russia has made it clear such actions would come with retaliation. After the U.S. law was passed, Russia banned American adoptions of Russian orphans.

“We find this unacceptable,” the members wrote, saying they would lobby against the visa agreement unless restrictions were imposed. “We look forward to constructive proposals from you about how to prevent the corrupted officials or those who violate human rights from entering the E.U.”

Russia’s E.U. Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov told reporters in Yekaterinburg that the letter had “no importance in Russian-E.U. relations.” When the Interfax news agency asked him about a Magnitsky list, he replied, “I have not heard such a surname.”

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