Sanders among 500 Americans banned from entering Russia

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders gives remarks at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock in this April 19, 2023 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders gives remarks at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock in this April 19, 2023 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine, has been banned from entering the autocrat's country.

Moscow officials announced last week that they would "deny entry" to the Little Rock Republican and 499 other Americans, portraying the move as retaliation for similar sanctions placed by the Biden administration on "Russian officials and ordinary citizens."

"I guess that puts a lid on anyone accusing HER of collusion with Russia!" her father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, said in a text message to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The gesture "won't change her life one bit, but I don't blame Putin for banning her," Huckabee wrote. "He has his hands full dealing with Ukraine and I know for sure couldn't handle Sarah!"

The Russian Embassy's press office in Washington did not respond to requests for comment Thursday afternoon.

As part of a short-term missions trip, Sanders and other members of her church spent time in Ukraine volunteering at an orphanage roughly 14 years ago and has condemned the invasion.

In addition to Sanders, seven other governors were included on the blacklist: fellow Republican James Pillen of Nebraska and six Democrats: Christine Kotek of Oregon, Westley Moore of Maryland, Jared Polis of Colorado, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, Kathleen Hobbs of Arizona and Joshua Shapiro of Pennsylvania.

Dozens of newly-elected U.S. House and Senate members from both parties were also singled out, along with a variety of media, academic, business and executive branch officials.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the list "includes officials at government and law-enforcement agencies that are directly involved in harassing dissidents after 'the storm of the Capitol,'" a reference to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot that delayed the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

"It is time for Washington to realise that not a single hostile move against Russia will remain without a tough response," the ministry said in a written statement. "We will consistently apply the principle of inevitable punishment, be it in response to the toughening of sanctions or discrimination to obstruct the professional activity of our citizens."

The list included former President Barack Obama but not Sanders' old boss, former U.S. President Donald Trump. Several people who have drawn Trump's criticism made the list, including Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state who rejected Trump's entreaties to "find" additional votes, and Jack Smith, the Justice Department special counsel responsible for investigating interference "with the lawful transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election or the certification of the Electoral College vote."

Russia had already singled out hundreds of other Americans for sanctions, including former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wes Clark of Little Rock and former U.S. Secretary of State and onetime Arkansas first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as well as the six members of Arkansas' all-Republican congressional delegation: U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton and U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, French Hill, Steve Womack and Bruce Westerman.

"Doing the right thing usually puts you on the wrong side of Vladimir Putin. Governor Sanders is in fine company," Cotton said Thursday.

In a written statement, Sanders spokeswoman Alexa Henning suggested the snub was of little import.

"While travel to Russia isn't on the Governor's to-do list, Putin's recent action barring Governor Sanders from his country won't change her belief that his actions against his own people are criminal and inhumane," Henning said.

Then-candidate Sanders denounced Russia's war on Ukraine from the moment the February 2022 invasion began.

"I had the privilege of doing a mission trip to Ukraine in 2009 and the people I met were kind and generous and proud of their country," she tweeted Feb. 23, 2022. "Pray for the Ukrainian people. Evil is on the march, and the world desperately needs America to be strong and a light in the darkness again."

And on March 13, 2022, the day Russian forces gunned down an award-winning documentary filmmaker from Arkansas, she called for the Kremlin to be held accountable.

"Putin must pay a heavy price for the senseless killing of an American journalist in Ukraine," she tweeted. "Brent Renaud bravely gave his life reporting on Putin's war crimes and doing his part to hold Putin accountable. Prayers for his family and peace in Ukraine."

Asked whether it's a badge of honor for his daughter to be blacklisted by Russia, Huckabee texted: "It's good to be known by who your friends are and by who your enemies are. I'm sure she'd gladly give up being known as a pal of Putin."

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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