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Second US senator barred from entering Russia for official visit

Sen. Christopher Murphy at the 50th Munich Security Conference 2014. ( Marc Müller/Munich Security Conference/Released)

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

A second U.S. senator who is critical of Moscow has said Russia denied him a visa to visit the country as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation.

Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) said on August 27 in a posting on his website that the Russian government had refused to issue him a visa, calling it a “shame that Russia isn’t interested in dialogue.”

The comments by the member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee follow similar ones a day earlier by Senator Ron Johnson (Republican-Wisconsin).

Johnson’s office said that, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, the lawmaker had planned to speak with Russian government officials, American businesses, civil society organizations, and others.

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“While I’ve been a tough critic of the Kremlin, I also believe it’s important to maintain dialogue especially during moments of tension,” Murphy said.

“Unfortunately, the Russian government is further isolating their country by blocking our visit and several others in recent months. With the collapse of recent arms-control agreements and significant domestic opposition to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule, this is potentially a perilous moment for our two nations’ fragile relationship, and it’s a shame that Russia isn’t interested in dialogue,” Murphy added.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Johnson is on a blacklist created in response to U.S. sanctions. The Russian Embassy called him “Russophobic.”

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

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

It did not immediately comment on Murphy’s comments, which came out later.

Johnson has in the past said Russia is taking “a dark turn” under President Vladimir Putin and criticized Putin in the visa denial announcement.

“The path Vladimir Putin has chosen for Russia is a tragedy of historic proportions,” Johnson said. “Instead of holding free and fair elections, respecting the rule of law, and integrating Russia’s economy with Western democracies, Putin has invaded Georgia, attempted to illegally annex Crimea, and conducted war in eastern Ukraine where thousands have died.”

Johnson was referring to a series of Moscow protests sparked by a decision by election officials to bar opposition and independent candidates from the September municipal elections in the Russian capital. Police have used force to disperse the demonstrations and detained more than 2,000 people, triggering international condemnation.

A five-day war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 resulted in the occupation by Russian military forces of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In March 2014, Moscow seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula after sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries. Moscow is also backing separatists in a war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.

Johnson said he had led and supported a variety of legislation aimed at holding “Russia accountable for its aggression in Ukraine and its targeting of dissidents.”

Johnson and Murphy in March were among a group of lawmakers who introduced legislation that seeks to counter Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project with sanctions.

In January 2018, Johnson canceled a trip to Russia because a member of the congressional delegation, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire), was denied a visa.

Shaheen’s request was rejected because she is on a blacklist, the Russian Embassy said at the time.