Russia blasts Finland for barring parliament speaker

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto during a joint press conference outside Moscow, on June 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/Alexander Nemenov)
Moscow on Wednesday slammed Finland for refusing entry to the speaker of Russia\’s parliament in the latest high-profile spat between the Kremlin and the European Union over the blacklisting of officials due to the Ukraine crisis.
 
The Finnish foreign ministry said Wednesday that it has barred six Russian officials, including the speaker of parliament\’s Duma lower house Sergei Naryshkin, from attending an upcoming Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting in Helsinki.
It is the first time Naryshkin — one of the most prominent of some 150 Russians and Ukrainians placed on an EU blacklist over their role in the Ukraine crisis — has been barred from entering the EU.
"Without question we consider this outrageous," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies, arguing Naryshkin was heading an official delegation to a conference of an international organisation.
Russia\’s foreign ministry said it had lodged an official complaint with the Finnish ambassador to Moscow after summoning him Wednesday.
"Russia considers the Finnish decision to refuse entry to be unacceptable," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
 
The parliamentary assembly of the OSCE is to meet July 5-9 in Helsinki to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki accords, which improved relations between eastern and western Europe.
"Finland has concluded after thorough consultations and analysis that the grounds for making the exemption for the entry into Finland of the persons that are on the EU Council\’s sanction list are not applicable," Paivi Kaukoranta, the chief legal counsel for the Finnish foreign ministry, told AFP.
"The other members of the Russian delegation are welcome to Finland," she said.
The European Union had put Naryshkin on the blacklist in March 2014 because he "publicly supported the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine" as well as the annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
He has however visited France on official trips since then.
 
Naryshkin told Russian television that the rest of the country\’s delegation would skip the event, with the foreign ministry saying only a low-ranking diplomat would attend.
"This is our expression of protest against lawlessness and against the violation of democratic principles," he said.
He accused Brussels and Washington of applying "gross pressure" on the authorities in Helsinki to block the Russian officials.
 
Russia has slapped a retaliatory entry ban on 89 European citizens — including past and serving parliamentarians who have openly criticised President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine.
The existence of the list only became publicly known after it was revealed to European diplomats in late May.
The OSCE\’s parliamentary assembly is expected to discuss a proposed resolution at the meeting condemning "the Russian Federation\’s unilateral and unjustified assault on Ukraine\’s sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Russia has responded with a counter proposal entitled "the inadmissibility of the use of sanctions against parliamentarians of the OSCE participating states."
The European Union and United States have slapped entry bans and economic sanctions on Russia over the seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Kiev and Moscow\’s alleged fuelling of a separatist conflict.
The EU last month agreed to extend sanctions over the Ukraine crisis until January 2016, prompting Moscow to extend its own tit-for-tat embargo on Western agricultural food products for another year.
SOURCE: AFP

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