The Wisconsin Republican is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation and has spearheaded and supported bills retaliating against Russia for military aggression in Ukraine and for cracking down on President Vladimir Putin’s dissidents.
Johnson, who visited Russia last July with other lawmakers, said Monday he had been planning to speak next week with Russian government officials, American businesses, civil society organizations and others.
“Working with [U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon] Huntsman, I had hoped direct dialogue with Russian parliamentarians could help set the stage for better future relations between our two nations,” Johnson said.
“Unfortunately, Russian officials continue to play diplomatic games with this sincere effort and have denied me entrance to Russia. Regardless of this petty affront, I will continue to advocate a strong and resolute response to Russian aggression — and frank dialogue when possible.”
On Tuesday, Russia fought back against Johnson’s characterization of the episode, with multiple government agencies and officials saying the Wisconsin senator never actually applied for a visa or stated the purpose of any planned trip.
Johnson is on Russia’s “stop list” barring certain foreign nationals from visiting the country, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday in a statement to Sputnik, a pro-Putin international news network run by the Russian government-owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya.
The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed that Johnson has “long been aware” that he is on the stop list, a retaliation against the U.S. for blacklisting certain Russian government officials from visiting here.
In 2013, the Obama administration barred roughly two dozen Russians — including some upper-level government officials and Ramzan Kadyrov, the Putin-aligned president of Chechnya — from entering the U.S. and froze all of their U.S.-based assets. Putin responded in kind with a similar blacklist.
“We have long been calling on the United States to remove lawmakers from any travel restrictions as a first step towards abolition of ‘blacklists,’” the Russian Embassy in the U.S. said in a statement on Twitter on Tuesday.
In his statement announcing he had been denied a visa to Russia for next week, Johnson blasted Putin for setting his country down a path that is “a tragedy of historic proportions.”
“Instead of holding free and fair elections, respecting the rule of law, and integrating Russia’s economy with Western democracies, Putin has invaded Georgia, attempted to illegally annex Crimea, conducted war in eastern Ukraine where thousands have died, and supported a barbaric regime in Syria that has used chemical weapons on its own people in a war that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands,” Johnson said.
The Russian embassy in the U.S. accused Johnson of distorting Russian foreign policy “in his usual russophobic manner” and said it believes the Wisconsin senator “is ready not for a dialogue, but a confrontation.”
As some Republican lawmakers hold a hard line against Russia for its aggressive foreign policy and interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, President Donald Trump has continued his public detente with Putin.
Trump acknowledged at a news conference Monday in France that he and his G7 counterparts had discussed bringing Russia back into the former G8. Trump said he might invite Putin to a U.S.-based summit next year even though it will fall months before Election Day.
“I don’t care politically … Whether I’m winning or not, I have to do the right thing,” he said. “A lot of people say having Russia, which is a power, having them inside the room is better than having them outside the room. … My inclination is to say, ‘Yes, they should be in.’ … I do nothing for politics. I do what’s right. … I do think it’s good for the security of the world, the economy of the world.”