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Russia: US senators claiming they were denied visas are on blacklist

State awards ceremony in the Catherine Hall of the Kremlin. Awarding of Maria Zakharova, Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, with the Order of Friendship. (Kremlin.ru / Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says U.S. Senators Ron Johnson and Chris Murphy, who claim that Russia has denied them visas, “knew well” they were on a list of officials barred from the country.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told journalists on August 28 that the list was established in response to the United States’ “unfounded restrictions against a significant number of members of the Federation Council,” Russia’s upper house of parliament.

Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) and Johnson (Republican-Wisconsin), who are strong Kremlin critics, earlier this week said Russia had denied them visas to visit the country as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation.

A Senate staffer told CNN that their trip was part of an itinerary next week that includes stops in Kosovo, Serbia, and Ukraine.

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In a post on his website on August 27, Murphy, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Russia’s move a “shame that Russia isn’t interested in dialogue” at a “potentially a perilous moment for our two nations’ fragile relationship.”

The previous day, Johnson said in a statement that “the path [President] Vladimir Putin has chosen for Russia is a tragedy of historic proportions.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington called Johnson “Russophobic” and said he “did not apply for a visa at our embassy and did not inform about his plans to visit Russia.”

In a statement posted on Twitter, the embassy said the U.S. senator’s “groundless accusations against Russia leave no doubt — he is ready not for a dialogue, but a confrontation.”

It later said that the comments also “can be fully applied” to Murphy.

Relations between Russia and the United States have been severely strained over a variety of issues including Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, its alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election, and its involvement in Syria’s civil war.