WASHINGTON — Russian government officials have barred two American senators critical of the Kremlin from visiting the country as part of a bipartisan congressional trip, according to the two lawmakers.
Senators Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, and Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, both members of the Foreign Relations Committee, planned to visit Russia next week with Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, to meet with government officials and American businesses in the country. But both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Murphy said they were denied visas.
“I had hoped direct dialogue with Russian parliamentarians could help set the stage for better future relations between our two nations,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Russian officials continue to play diplomatic games with this sincere effort. Regardless of this petty affront, I will continue to advocate a strong and resolute response to Russian aggression — and frank dialogue when possible.”
Mr. Murphy accused Russian officials of “further isolating their country by blocking the trip.”
“With the collapse of recent arms control agreements and significant domestic opposition to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule, this is potentially a perilous moment for our two nations’ fragile relationship, and it’s a shame that Russia isn’t interested in dialogue,” he said.
Both lawmakers have been outspoken in their criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and have called for sanctions on Moscow over the construction of an offshore pipeline to counter Russia’s efforts to consolidate its position in the natural gas market in Eastern Europe. Mr. Murphy also has supported a series of measures in the Senate that would impose stiff sanctions on Moscow over its interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The Russian Embassy said in a statement on Monday that Mr. Johnson “did not inform about his plans to visit,” and accused him of comporting himself “in his usual Russophobic manner.”
“Senator Ron Johnson’s groundless accusations against Russia leave no doubts — he is not ready for a dialogue, but a confrontation,” the statement said. The Russian Foreign Ministry told Sputnik, a Russian government-owned news agency on Tuesday, however, that Mr. Johnson is on a government blacklist.
The move is the latest escalation in a retributive back-and-forth between the two countries, even as President Trump is pushing to readmit Russia into the Group of 7 industrialized nations. The Obama administration barred dozens of Russians, including close friends of President Vladimir V. Putin’s, in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its activities to destabilize Ukraine. Russian officials expanded their own blacklist last year, after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on 19 Russian individuals and five entities in relation to Russia’s interference in the presidential election.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, was also blocked from entering the country in 2017. In response, Mr. Johnson and Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, who were also scheduled to visit Russia with Ms. Shaheen, canceled the trip.
In an effort to sustain pressure on Moscow, a group of Senate Democrats on Tuesday, led by Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, urged Mr. Trump in a separate letter not to readmit Russia to the Group of 7 until the government “undertakes demonstrable actions to show its willingness to be a responsible actor on the world stage.”