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Russia To Boycott OSCE Session After Finland Blocks Delegates

Russia is staying away from a session of the OSCE after Finland said it would block State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin (pictured, center) and five other Russian delegates from attending.

MOSCOW -- Russia is set to boycott a session of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly in Helsinki next week after Finland said it would block Russian State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin and five other Russian delegates from attending.

Finland on July 1 cited European sanctions and travel bans imposed against the six as the reasons for declining a request to lift an EU travel ban and extend visas to the six delegates.

The Kremlin decried the moves as "unacceptable" and "disgraceful" on July 1, and Naryshkin announced that as a result Russia would not be sending any members of its planned 15-strong delegation to the July 5-9 session.

In comments carried by RIA Novosti state news agency, Naryshkin said the boycott was to "protest against arbitrariness, against a violation of the principles of democracy."

Petra Sarias, a communications officer for the Finnish Foreign Ministry, said on July 1 that Finland's decision to deny visas to the delegates was reached after "consultations with other European countries." She said that "Finland hopes the Russian delegation will participate," but added that "people on the EU sanctions list are not able to receive permission to come."

Finland's decision came after lengthy public debate over the issue, and despite what one source with knowledge of the matter said was a flurry of behind-the-scenes diplomacy and phone calls between Russia and its Scandinavian neighbor.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov slammed the decision in comments to Kommersant, saying that "overall, of course, we consider this disgraceful because as far as I know the head of [the Duma] was intending to take part in an international event."

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is dueat the session to discuss a raft of topics -- ranging from Ukraine to climate change. Naryshkin himself had submitted a document for discussion titled: "The inadmissibility of the use of sanctions against parliamentarians of the OSCE participating states."

Richard Solash, director of communications at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, clarified on July 1 that "the OSCE doesn't have any say in whether or not a country decides to enforce sanctions or make an exception.

"This is a decision of the Finnish Foreign Ministry," he said.