Europe

Andrei Lugovoi slams US blacklist of Russians as 'spite'

Former Soviet KGB agent and current Russian parliamentarian Andrei Lugovoi attends a press conference in Moscow on 12 March 2013 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Lugovoi accused US President Barack Obama of a final act of spite in the dying days of his administration

One of five prominent Russians blacklisted by the US has slammed it as a last act of "spite" before Barack Obama cedes power to Donald Trump.

Lawmaker Andrei Lugovoi, one of two suspects in the poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, said he was baffled by the move.

Mr Trump, who assumes the presidency on 20 January, has vowed to restore closer ties with Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had hope ties would improve "soon".

Thirty-five Russian diplomats have been expelled from US soil over allegations that Russia ran a hacking campaign to influence the American presidential elections.

Russia has dismissed the claims as a "witch-hunt".

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US officials say the sanctions announced on Monday are not related to the hacking but come under the 2012 Magnitsky law, designed to punish human rights violators, which bans travel to the United States and freezes all assets there.

The two men wanted in the UK for Litvinenko's murder, Mr Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, are among them.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Fellow blacklisted politician Alexander Bastrykin has previously said inclusion on the Magnitsky list "would be a great honour"

Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia's Investigative Committee, is also on the list. He oversaw the investigation into Sergei Magnitsky's arrest and death in police custody and concluded that no crime had been committed.

He has previously said inclusion on the Magnitsky list "would be a great honour".

The others are the former head of the Universal Savings Bank Gennady Plaksin, and former investigative agency official, Stanislav Gordiyevsky.

But on Tuesday Mr Lugovoi said he was "perplexed".

"I think that [President] Obama is now rushing before handing over his prerogatives to harm and spite Russia in any way he can, and this has led to absurd things," he was quoted as saying by Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

'Unprecedented degradation of relations'

Mr Peskov told journalists in Moscow that the sanctions were "additional steps towards the artificial degradation of our relations".

He declined to comment on whether Russia would retaliate.

On the legacy of the Obama administration, Mr Peskov said: "We can only express deep disappointment that it was in Mr Obama's second term that we saw a period of unprecedented and prolonged degradation in our bilateral relations.

"We are convinced that this does not meet our interests, or those of Washington. We think it's a shame that it happened. At the same time, we still hope that one way or another it will be possible to reach a more positive trajectory for relations with America soon."

Litvinenko died after drinking tea laced with a rare radioactive substance at a hotel in London.

Both Mr Lugovoi and Mr Kovtun deny any involvement in the killing, and efforts to extradite the men to the UK have failed.

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