Moscow said Wednesday it was expanding a list of European officials who are banned from entering Russia as a response to what it said were aggressive EU actions.
A Foreign Ministry statement did not specify what the sanctions were a response to, but referred to “hostile steps” against Russia and its citizens.
Russia’s ties with European countries have worsened since Germany and France said this month that opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent.
The statement said Russia was expanding “a reciprocal list of representatives of EU countries and institutions who are banned from entering Russian territory.”
It added that the number of EU officials barred entry to Russia was now equal to the number of its officials on an EU list.
“The EU is continuing to expand its sanctions tools and apply them on the basis of groundless and sometimes absurd pretexts,” it said.
“We have repeatedly warned the EU about the malignancy of such an approach.”
If Brussels continues its “confrontational” policies Moscow reserves the right to act further, the Foreign Ministry said.
European leaders have demanded explanations from Moscow since Germany said toxicology tests showed Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic, was poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet-designed chemical weapon.
But the Kremlin has brushed off allegations it was behind the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner’s poisoning.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday accused Western countries of “unleashing a massive disinformation campaign” over Navalny’s hospitalisation.
“We believe this rhetoric is simply unacceptable,” she said, reiterating there was no evidence that Moscow was behind the poisoning.
Moscow Expands List of German Officials Banned From Russia
Moscow on Tuesday expanded a list of German officials who are banned from entering Russia in response to EU sanctions that the bloc imposed over Russian cyber attacks on the German parliament.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that in response to “destructive” EU sanctions in October, “Moscow made a decision to expand the reciprocal list of German citizens who are prohibited from entering Russia.”
The European Union and Britain in October hit senior Russian intelligence officers with the penalties for their alleged role in hacking the German parliament’s computer network in 2015.
A cyber attack in April and May 2015 completely paralyzed the IT infrastructure of the Bundestag and the entire parliament had to be taken offline for days while it was fixed.
The head of the GRU military intelligence agency, Igor Kostyukov, and intelligence officer Dmitri Badin were banned from EU soil and are subject to an asset freeze.
Russia on Tuesday did not specify which German officials were being handed entry bans, but said the individuals were senior members of the intelligence services and defense ministry.
The Foreign Ministry in Moscow described EU allegations that Russia was involved in the hacking attacks as a “pretext.”
Moscow and Brussels have recently ratcheted up tit-for-tat sanctions, including renewed food import bans and penalties over the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.