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US senator says he was denied Russian visa, calls Putin’s policies ‘tragedy of historic proportions’

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

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

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (Republican-Wisconsin) says that Russia has denied him a visa to visit as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, Johnson had planned to speak with Russian government officials, American businesses, civil society organizations, and others, his office said in a press release on August 26.

It didn’t say when he had planned to visit Russia or if other members of the delegation also had their applications rejected.

The Russian Embassy to the United States later said that Johnson “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.”

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.”

The senator has also supported sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

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 created in response to U.S. sanctions, the Russian Embassy said at the time.