MOSCOW - Moscow said on Saturday that Washington had dealt a severe blow to relations by barring 18 Russians from the United States over alleged human rights abuses, and in retaliation it banned 18 Americans from entering Russia.
US President Barack Obama's administration had on Friday issued a list of 18 people subject to visa bans and asset freezes in the United States under the Magnitsky Act legislation passed by Congress late last year.
"Under pressure from Russophobic members of the US Congress, a powerful blow has been dealt to bilateral relations and mutual trust," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.
The blacklistings could dim hopes voiced publicly by both sides of rehabilitating a relationship increasingly strained since President Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin last May.
However, both governments showed restraint, keeping high-level current officials off their lists in an apparent effort to contain the political damage.
The most prominent names on Russia's list were from the administration of George W. Bush, and the wording blaming US lawmakers seemed aimed to take some of the heat off Obama.