(MOSCOW) — Russia slapped sanctions on a pair of former top Bush administration officials, two former commanders of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and 14 other Americans in retaliation for a set of human rights sanctions the Obama administration imposed on a number of Russian citizens on Friday.
In a statement, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was forced to respond to the American “blackmail,” which it warned would harm U.S.-Russia relations. The Kremlin had prepared a list of over 100 American officials in advance of Friday’s announcement, warning its response would be proportionate to the Obama administration’s actions.
The former officials included on the Russian list are David Addington, then Chief of Staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney, and John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who wrote legal opinions justifying the Bush administration’s controversial policies on detainee interrogation.
Russia said the 14 other Americans, which include judges and officials from the Drug Enforcement Agency, were involved in cases against Russian citizens abroad. They included those involved in the capture and conviction of Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms trafficker who was the inspiration for Nicholas Cage’s character in the movie Lord of War. Russia has insisted that Bout is an innocent businessman.
The Russian move comes after the Obama administration sanctioned 18 Russians on Friday, plus an untold number of others in a classified annex, on the so-called Magnitsky List. The list, named for whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died under mysterious circumstances in 2009 after uncovering massive fraud, was mandated by Congressional legislation in December. Just weeks later, Russia passed a retaliatory bill that included a controversial ban on adoptions to the United States.
The American list included 16 Russians allegedly involved in Magnitsky’s detention and death as well as two Chechens accused of abuses.
The tit-for-tat sanctions come at a delicate time in U.S.-Russian relations. Ties have been strained over the past year, but Washington is trying to convince Russia to drop its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the conflict there rages on. Both sides are also trying to tee up an agreement on key issues before a meeting between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin in June.
To that end, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon arrives in Moscow on Sunday for a two day visit to discuss prospects for further nuclear arms cuts and NATO’s missile defense plans. The United States insists that plan, which places interceptor missiles in Eastern Europe, is aimed at countering the threat from Iran. Russia says the system degrades its own nuclear deterrent capability.
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Alanna Petroff, CNN
Ivana Kottasova, CNN
Sugam Pokharel and AJ Willingham, CNN