Valentina Matvienko is speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council. She is one of seven Russian officials targeted by U.S. sanctions including a travel ban.
The ban does not actually bar officials from UN events. The pettiness involved in banning Matvienko is evident in that it is possible solely because of the technicality that strictly speaking, the event is not a UN event. The Inter-Parliamentary Union(IPU) that organized the event only has observer status at the UN. Nevertheless the event is held in the UN headquarters. Matvienko would not need to travel outside the UN headquarters while at the event except to travel to and from the airport. The U.S. actually offered Matvienko a visa to go the United Nations but barred her from attending the conference, which is at the UN!The sanctions were imposed as punishment for the annexation of the Ukraine by Russia. Matvienko was on the agenda to speak at the Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, and was still able to give her address by a video link. It is difficult to see what benefit the US gains from the ban. Not only is it bad publicity for the U.S., it may cause future conferences to move outside the U.S. to the Swiss or other European offices of the UN. It also gave Matvienko a platform to denounce the U.S. She told the conference that the U.S. should realize that the days of U.S. superpower domination are over. A speaker from Iran, hardly a country on good terms with the U.S., was able to attend as were speakers from Vietnam and China.Matvienko said she deeply regretted not being able to attend the conference that involved some 120 countries.Matvienko claimed the U.S. sanctions are illegal and "gross violations of the norms of international laws, and the principles of democracy and freedom of speech" and said: "Sanctions against parliamentarians elected by the citizens of their country because of their political views — and this in the 21st century — is nothing other than political persecution."Saber Chowdhury, president of the IPU, said she was disappointed that Matvienko had been barred from the conference and said the IPU believed in dialogue "which regardless of differences is fundamental to democracy and international cooperation." John Kirby of the U.S. State Department would not discuss the case but noted that Matvienko remains under U.S. sanctions.The conference is held only once every five years. This year the conference is discussing UN development goals that will be adopted at a world leaders conference late this month to combat poverty and tackle climate change.Neither speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner, nor Mitch McConnell, majority leader of the US Senate attended the conference. They said they were unable to attend. The 120 countries that did send representatives will hardly have an improved attitude to the U.S., which cannot be bothered to send representatives itself but is anxious to ban a representative who wanted to attend.