MOSCOW (Dispatches) -- Russia has banned the entry into the country of eight officials from European Union member nations to retaliate against "illegitimate” EU sanctions imposed on Russian citizens.
"The European Union continues to pursue its policy of illegitimate, unilateral restrictive measures against Russian citizens and organizations,” Russia’s foreign ministry declared in a statement.
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.
Russia also barred three officials from the Baltic states, namely 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.
Additionally, it imposed the entry ban on Berlin’s Public Prosecutor Jorg Raupach and the Swedish Defense Research Agency’s Asa Scott.
The foreign ministry statement blamed the EU bloc of nations for "openly and deliberately” undermining the independence of Moscow’s domestic and foreign policy.
The EU imposed sanctions in March against two Russians in the southern Russian region of Chechnya. It also imposed sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it was cutting staff and will stop issuing visas to most Russian citizens, prompting the Kremlin to accuse Washington of fuelling tension with "unfriendly actions.”
The embassy said it was slashing its consular staff by 75 percent and that effective May 12 it would halt processing non-immigrant visas for non-diplomatic travel, blaming the move on a new Russian law that limited the number of local employees at foreign diplomatic missions in the country.
"We regret that the actions of the Russian government have forced us to reduce our consular work force by 75%,” the embassy declared in a statement.
"Effective May 12, U.S. Embassy Moscow will reduce consular services offered to include only emergency U.S. citizen services and a very limited number of age-out and life or death emergency immigrant visas.”
That means Russians will have to travel to third countries to apply for U.S. visas.
The Russian foreign ministry said the U.S. diplomatic staff quota in Russia stood at 455, and that there were only 280 accredited American staff in the country, giving Washington plenty of space to fill up staff numbers.
The ministry also said that Russian consulates across the U.S. were still issuing visas within 10 days despite suffering diplomatic cutbacks themselves.