Respected former Defence Department and ASIO chief Dennis Richardson has been refused entry to Russia in a diplomatic jab at Australia because of its own sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s circle of oligarchs.
Mr Richardson was holidaying with his wife Betty when he was turned away on Thursday by Russian immigration officials at St Petersburg in apparent retaliation to Canberra’s travel bans against senior members of Mr Putin’s network after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
“It would appear from enquiries that I’m on a list that the Russians put together in 2014 in retaliation for the sanctions we imposed on Russia which followed the annexation of Crimea,” Mr Richardson said.
“There is a certain irony that I was able to visit the Soviet Union, but in post-Cold War Russia I’ve been denied entry as a tourist.”
The gesture against a long-serving former public servant has angered the Australian government, which raised it with Moscow. A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman declared the government “disappointed but not surprised” by the refusal to allow Mr Richardson to pass immigration and called on the Kremlin to accept “state responsibility” for the downing of flight MH17 in which 38 Australian citizens and residents were killed.
Mr Richardson is the first Australian - whether an official, a politician or a businessperson - known to be affected by Russia’s undeclared retaliation against Canberra’s 2014 sanctions. While Australia and similar countries published full details of their sanctions, including the names of people subjected to travel bans, Russia has kept its countermoves secret.
Mr Richardson was forced to remain on the cruise ship on which he was holidaying for three days until it departed St Petersburg.
Speaking from Estonia, the former public servant, who in a half-century career held some of the top roles in security and foreign policy, was philosophical, though he said that “the pettiness of it is that no one in Australia was aware of who was on the list because they have not been prepared to publish it”.
After queuing for immigration and being denied entry, Mr Richardson said he sat on the ship “enjoying the scenery” until its scheduled departure. The captain had to agree not to let Mr Richardson disembark.
Australia’s relations with Russia have sharply deteriorated in recent years as Mr Putin’s government makes what are widely regarded as increasingly bellicose gestures towards Western nations.
Canberra’s sanctions over the annexation of Crimea included travel bans on about 50 individuals made up of oligarchs important to Mr Putin’s political support, parliamentarians and military figures.
“Our sanctions respond robustly to the actions of the Russian government in undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.
Australia also led diplomatic action along with the Netherlands against Moscow after Ukrainian separatists used a Russian-supplied missile to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
More recently, Australian joined Britain, the US and many European countries in expelling Russian spies posing as diplomats after a Russian-made nerve agent was used to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain.
The Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said: “We are disappointed, but not surprised, by Russia’s imposition of sanctions that led to the denial of Mr Richardson’s entry to Russia. We raised this issue with the Russian Government at the time of the refusal.
“We continue to call on Russia to accept state responsibility for the downing of MH17 that killed 298 passengers and crew, including 38 Australians.”