EU criticizes 'unjustified' Russian travel blacklist

By Andreas Rinke BERLIN (Reuters) - Russia has imposed an entry ban on 89 European politicians and military leaders, according to a list seen by Reuters, a move that has angered Europe and worsened its standoff with the West over Moscow's role in the Ukraine conflict. The list, which the Russian foreign ministry compiled and handed to a European Union delegation in Moscow this week, includes outspoken critics of Russia as well as military and intelligence officials. A similar list exists for U.S. citizens, a ministry official told Russian media. Since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, the EU has imposed economic sanctions, visa bans and asset freezes on scores of Russian and Ukrainian citizens and organizations. Moscow denies Western accusations that it is supporting pro-Russian separatists battling government forces in Ukraine, where 6,200 people have died in the fighting. A spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs said that in recent months Russia had denied entry to a number of EU politicians. "We consider this measure as totally arbitrary and unjustified, especially in the absence of any further clarification and transparency," she said. A spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office said there was no justification for the travel ban. "If Russia's intention is to put pressure on the EU to ease sanctions then this is not the way to do it," she said. A Russian Foreign Ministry official confirmed to Russian media that lists of banned individuals had been sent to EU states but declined to comment on the individuals themselves. "The answer to the demands of several European states, why it was precisely these people who entered into the list ... is simple: It was done in answer to the sanctions campaign which has been waged in relation to Russia by several states of the European Union headed by Germany," the anonymous official was quoted as saying by news agency TASS. "An analogous list exists in relation to citizens of the U.S., however one needs to note that in this case the Americans are behaving more constructively than the Europeans," he added. BLACKLISTED Among those listed is Uwe Corsepius, current secretary general of the European Union council in Brussels, who is due to take over as foreign affairs advisor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The document also includes Bruno Le Roux, the leader of President Francois Hollande's Socialists in parliament, Britain's former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and former Belgian premier Guy Verhofstadt, who heads the Liberal group in the European parliament. Poland, which has been the sternest EU critic of Russia's policy towards Ukraine, had 18 names on the list. "For some time we've seen that Russia is not necessarily trying to mitigate tensions but rather strengthen them," a spokeswoman for Poland's government told Reuters. Last Monday, Germany protested to Russia over its refusal to let a conservative German lawmaker, Karl-Georg Wellmann, who had called Russia a "warmonger" earlier this year, into the country. Other countries with names on the list include Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria and Spain. (Additional reporting by Julia Fioretti in Brussels, Neil Maidment in London, Daniel Dickson in Stockholm, Adrian Krajewski in Poland, Michel Rose in Paris and Jason Bush in Moscow; Writing by Caroline Copley; Editing by Digby Lidstone and Ralph Boulton)