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U.S. Lawmaker Says Russia Denied Him Visa

Published: March 1, 2013 (Issue # 1748)



  • U.S. Congressman Chris Smith
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

MOSCOW Asenior U.S. lawmaker says he has been denied aRussian visa as aresult ofhis vocal backing ofthe U.S. Magnitsky Act, which allows Washington topunish Russians implicated inhuman rights violations with avisa ban andasset freezes.

Chris Smith, aRepublican congressman fromNew Jersey who has served inthe House ofRepresentatives since 1981, said it was thefirst time his visa application toRussia had been denied over many years ofcoming tothe country.

"This is thefirst time [I've been denied]," Smith told Foreign Policy magazine on Wednesday. "I was shocked. During theworst days ofthe Soviet Union I went there repeatedly."

The visa denial is the latest sign of a cooling in U.S.-Russian relations following the U.S. Congress passage in November of the Magnitsky Act, which was fiercely opposed by Russian authorities, who have called it a form of meddling in the country's domestic affairs.

Russian lawmakers responded tothe act bypassing theso-called Dima Yakovlev law, which includes areciprocal visa ban andasset freezes foralleged U.S. human rights violators as well as aban onU.S. adoptions ofRussian orphans.

Valery Garbuzov, deputy director ofthe Institute forU.S. andCanadian Studies inMoscow, said Smith's visa denial could be thefirst volley inan extended visa war that perhaps only thenations' top leaders can halt.

"President Obama cannot cancel theMagnitsky Act, so relations will have tobe built onthese premises," he said. "At thesame time, theRussian response was excessive, which made thesituation snowball."

Smith, one ofthe most vocal members inthe U.S. Congress onhuman rights issues, said U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul tried tointervene onhis behalf tosecure avisa but had no success.

Thecongressman said he also met with Russian Ambassador toWashington Sergei Kislyak, who said thedecision toreject his visa application was made inMoscow, not atthe Russian Embassy inWashington.

AForeign Ministry official told TheSt. Petersburg Times that theministry never comments onindividual visa decisions.

But Alexei Pushkov, head ofthe State Duma's International Affairs Committee, said thesponsors ofthe U.S. Magnitsky Act will not be allowed totravel toRussia, inaccordance with the"spirit" ofthe Dima Yakovlev law.

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