Russia bars eight EU officials from entry in tit-for-tat move

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Russia's foreign ministry on Friday said it had barred eight European officials from entering the country in response to EU sanctions against Russian security officials over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny

"The European Union continues its policy of unilateral illegitimate restrictive measures targeting Russian citizens and organisations," the ministry said in a statement.

The Russian foreign ministry said those banned included Vera Jourova, vice president for values and transparency at the executive European Commission, and David Sassoli, the president of the European parliament.

Moscow said it was responding to sanctions imposed by the European Council last month against four top Russian security officials over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and a violent police response to protests in his support.

"Such actions by the European Union leave no doubt that their true goal is to restrain the development of our country at any cost," said the foreign ministry statement.

Responding to the move, EU chiefs on Friday condemned the “unacceptable” sanctions and said it showed Moscow had chosen a path of confrontation with the bloc.

"This action is unacceptable, lacks any legal justification and is entirely groundless. It targets the European Union directly, not only the individuals concerned," a joint statement from the heads of the European Council, Commission and Parliament said, adding "the EU reserves the right to take appropriate measures in response".

Navalny's arrest exacerbates strained relations

The list of European officials barred from Russia include officials from France and Germany, as well as Baltic states Estonia and Latvia.

One of Latvian officials, Ivars Abolins, in February supported his country's decision to drop several Russian television channels.

Another official on the list, Asa Scott of the Swedish Defence Research Agency, helped confirm last year that Navalny was poisoned by the Soviet-era Novichok nerve toxin in August.

The opposition figure says the poisoning was orchestrated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a claim the Kremlin denies.

Navalny's arrest on his return to Russia in January from Germany, where he had spent months recovering the poisoning, has helped plunge Moscow's relations with the West to near Cold War levels.

The EU and the US have imposed a series of sanctions on Russia over the poisoning and jailing of the critic.

Navalny, 44, is serving a two-and-a-half year sentence in a penal colony outside Moscow for violating parole terms on old fraud charges that he says are politically motivated.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)