Russia introduces US visa blacklist in lawyer row

Russia introduces US visa blacklist in lawyer row Moscow: Russia said on Saturday it had put high-ranking US officials implicated in "human rights crimes" on a visa blacklist, saying that list would grow if Washington continued to put pressure on Moscow.

Washington had earlier outraged Moscow by banning visas for an unspecified number of Russian officials linked to the 2009 death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, which became a symbol of abuses in the Russian judicial system.

Moscow's announcement of the visa black list was made during US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to ex-Soviet Central Asia and comes as Russia's tough-talking Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is gearing up to reclaim the presidency in March elections.

Many fear his comeback will a deal a blow to the "reset" in relations championed by his youthful protégé, incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev who prides himself on building rapport with US President Barack Obama.

The Russian foreign ministry released a statement today saying it had made good on its earlier promise to put together its own list in response to "political provocation" against Russia.

"Relying on the principle of reciprocity, a list of US nationals whose stay in Russia is deemed undesirable has been put together," the foreign ministry said.

Moscow accused Washington of "moralising" and reeled off a number of what it said were US rights violations such as "uninvestigated murders of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan" and "indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantanamo".

The list "contains high-ranking Washington officials implicated in the aforementioned high-profile human rights crimes," said the foreign ministry without providing any names.

The statement warned that if Washington continued to put pressure on Moscow, the list would be expanded to include more US officials.

"A line has not been drawn -- if the US side continues on its path of visa confrontation we will be forced to expand that list," the statement said.

Moscow released the foreign ministry statement as the top US diplomat was visiting the impoverished ex-Soviet nation of Tajikistan.

Asked to comment on Moscow's tit-for-tat move, a US official accompanying Hillary said that Washington "will work on this." The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not provide further details.

Analysts say US-Russia ties may take a beating as Medvedev is gearing up to leave the Kremlin next year and Obama faces a tough re-election bid in 2012.