BRUSSELS (AP) — EU-Russian relations took a further dip on Tuesday when the European Union strongly condemned Moscow for banning Polish and Latvian lawmakers from entering the country to attend the funeral of slain Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz called the bans a "high affront" and said he will intervene with Russian authorities "in the strongest terms and demand an official explanation."
Moscow said it denied entry to Polish senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz and Latvian European lawmaker Sandra Kalniete because they were on a list of officials barred from visiting the country in retaliation for the EU sanctions against Russia.
Latvia, which holds the rotating EU presidency, joined the criticism, arguing in a statement that the move to deny Kalniete entry "flies in the face of basic principles of humanity."
The EU foreign policy service was especially irked since the "justification in this particular case implies that she would represent a threat to the security of the state or public order," said spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic. "This does not appear as a credible explanation."
But Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, later issued a statement, saying Kalniete was denied entry for her "anti-Russian activities as part of retaliatory measures in response to the EU's action against some Russian officials." He added the ministry had informed Latvia in advance that Kalniete was barred from entering Russia, so Kalniete's arrival in the country despite that could only be seen as "provocative."
Poland sent a formal protest to the Russian Embassy after Borusewicz was kept out of the country for the funeral.
Valeria Perzhinskaya, a spokeswoman for the Russian Embassy in Warsaw, said Borusewicz was on the list of those who are barred from entering Russia in retaliation for the EU sanctions, according to Russia's state RIA Novosti news agency
Borusewicz said Russia is now "an undoubtedly authoritarian system that is moving in the direction of dictatorship."
Under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin relations with the 28-nation EU have steadily deteriorated over the past half-decade and have turned into confrontation over the war in Ukraine, deliveries of gas and human rights.
In the wake of the fighting in eastern Ukraine and Moscow's annexation last year of the Crimean Peninsula, the EU has imposed visa bans on 151 individuals, including some senior Russian officials and lawmakers. It also has imposed economic sanctions, to which Moscow has retaliated with a ban on most Western food.
Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Karl Ritter in Stockholm, and Jim Heintz in Moscow, contributed to this report.
Raf Casert can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert