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Kremlin blocks visa for Sen. Shaheen's visit to Russia

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 30. 2017 11:05AM
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has come down hard on the Kremlin in the year since political ally Hillary Clinton was defeated by Donald Trump. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

A pair of Republican senators pulled the plug on a planned visit to Russia after a Democratic colleague, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, was denied a visa for the January trip.

For years as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Shaheen has come down hard on the Kremlin, including helping to push the Russia sanctions bill that Congress approved earlier this year.

Shaheen has criticized Russian cybersecurity firm Kapersky Lab, which American intelligence officials have said posed a risk to agencies and businesses relying on its antivirus software. She also led an effort to force RT — the Russian news outlet that national security experts believe aided the Kremlin’s election influence campaign — to register as a foreign agent. And in 2012, she called for denying American visas to civil rights abusers from Russia seeking to travel to this country.

A Shaheen spokesman said it appears Russia placed the senator under a travel sanction, but this won’t reduce her resolve.

“While she regrets the Kremlin decision to impede dialogue between the Senate and the Russian people, she vows to continue her work to hold the Russian government accountable for its actions that go against international norms and against the Russian people,” said spokesman Ryan Nickel.

When word of Shaheen’s snub reached the Senate delegation, Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Barrasso of Wyoming called the trip off.

“The decision to deny a visa to a member of our Senate delegation is extremely unfortunate and counterproductive to improving relations between our nations,” Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

Later Friday night, the Russian Embassy in the United States issued a statement confirming Shaheen was on a “black list.” Russian officials maintain they were willing to issue Shaheen a conditional visa if the U.S. would reciprocate and admit those on an American “black list” trying to come here from Russia.

“The Embassy received requests for visas for the Congressional delegation consisting of senators and their staff. Visas were issued to all members of the delegation, except Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who is in the Russian “black list,” which was created in response to U.S. sanctions against our country,” the statement said.

“Attempts to present this situation as if the visit was cancelled because of the Russian side is totally biased and untrue. In fact, we proposed different ways out of the situation, including reaching an agreement to issue visas to parliamentarians in the “black lists” on (a) reciprocal basis. Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected by the American side.”

The three senators were scheduled to depart for Russia on Jan. 11 until they were notified Shaheen wouldn’t be permitted to attend. The trip was not sponsored by any organization, a Shaheen aide said.

The canceled trip had also included legs in Germany and Ukraine, federal officials said. In Russia, the lawmakers had intended to meet with civil society groups, as well as unspecified government officials. They also planned to meet with the “next generation of Russian leaders and current officials to understand prospects of the future of [the] US-Russian relationship.”

Shaheen appreciates that when the Kremlin moved to block her travel, her GOP colleagues refused to accept it, her aide said.

This is by no means the first time the Kremlin has sanctioned American lawmakers whom their leaders viewed as hostile.

In 2014, the country banned travel by six lawmakers, including the former House speaker and Senate majority leader for sanctions passed that year over Russia’s decision to annex Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., are the only two lawmakers targeted in that round of sanctions still in office.

Former Sen. Dan Coats, another Russia target, is now Trump’s director of national intelligence.

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