opinion | David Ignatius: I’m saddened by Russia’s travel ban list – and not just because I’m on it

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It saddened me to read Russia’s latest sanctions list, permanently banning travel to the country by 963 people – and not just because my name is on it. It is a catalog of mischief from a nation that seems ready to blame everyone but its leaders for its present problems.

The list is actually quite long, coming to nearly 100 pages in print. Reading many of the names, you feel that Russia is deliberately burning all its bridges with the United States. Russia’s ruling elite feels that American politicians, business leaders, journalists, judges, think tanks – almost everyone, it seems, is being mistreated.

Donald Trump can still visit Moscow, but dozens of Republican members of Congress cannot. The list of senators excluded from the Republican Party ranges from moderates such as Roy Blunt of Missouri and Mitt Romney of Utah to far-right advocate Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. The GOP didn’t do much better at home. Moderates Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin can’t tour the Kremlin anymore, but Jim Jordan of Ohio or Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia can no longer tour the Kremlin.

As for the Democrats, forget it. The sanctions list includes Democratic House leadership, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and Democratic Whip James E. Claiborne of South Carolina. The progressive block in Congress can save its rubles, too. All members of the “squad” have been banned. So is Pramila Jayapal of Washington State and Ro Khanna of California. The same is true of the Senate. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois: Sneak, slap.

National security advisors, who make up a gamut of foreign policy experience from department to department, are often pariahs, too. Jake Sullivan, current counsellor, is barred (with wife Margaret Goodlander, for good measure). So do John Bolton and HR McMaster of the Trump administration, along with Stephen Hadley of the George W. Bush years. Henry Kissinger could still travel to Moscow, and perhaps he should. The Kremlin needs to talk to someone.

The penalties document appears to be an all-purpose redemption list, with some very strange grievances. I searched for information on people identified as “US citizens” only. Six of them had been accused in court of abusing Russian orphans they had adopted. They included the 1997 case in Colorado, the 2003 case in Pennsylvania, the 2008 case in Maryland, the 2010 case in Ohio, and the 2012 case in Tennessee. Some of the details in these stories are gruesome, but they are very old wounds nonetheless.

The list has other anomalies. People who played a role in the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights have been cited 18 times. As well as members of organizations that sought to expose Russian disinformation, including actor Morgan Freeman and director Rob Reiner. Representatives of intellectual institutions that tried to dismantle the machinations of Russian foreign policy, such as the Atlantic Council, are often mentioned. A DC councilman who named a building near the Russian Embassy in Washington after defector Boris Nemtsov was also banned.

My personal crime, in addition to being a “journalist”, is that I’m supposed to be an “expert in [Woodrow] Wilson Center.” Sorry guys, but your last part is wrong. However, I am a trustee of the German Marshall Fund (as I have regularly reported to readers). I think even penal collectors need editors and fact-checkers.

Speaking of which, among the banned are some who wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the simple reason that they died. They include the late Senators John McCain of Arizona and Harry M. Reed of Nevada and Oren J. Hatch from Utah.

Some Americans may find the permanent exclusion from Russia a pleasure, but I am not one of them. I’ve been to the country six times, starting in the early 1980s, and have enjoyed each visit. I have spoken for more than four decades with Russian ambassadors, foreign ministers, Middle East specialists, and other officials. Apart from this journalistic work, I love Russian literature and music. Vodka isn’t bad either.

So to my great regret it seems that I will not be visiting Russia again anytime soon. But then, I worry about how, if Russia does not talk to anyone, the country will find its way to normal life after its tragic attack on Ukraine ceases.

Adults sometimes act like children, and this is especially true of adult politicians. When they make big mistakes, as Russian President Vladimir Putin did with his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, they want to blame someone else. They are puff and puff. They imagine that there is virtue in their solitude.

Everyone knows what grudges can be like. Reasonable people know how to get past one. They find a way out, so that they stop inflicting pain on others – and escape the prison they are making for themselves.

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