United States scales back Russian visa operations after Putin cuts embassy staff

The embassy made the decision after the Russian Foreign Ministry ordered a cap on the number of USA diplomatic personnel in Russia, it said in a statement, adding that it would resume issuing visas in Moscow on September 1, but maintain the suspension at consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok indefinitely. However, the necessary drastic reduction in staff is expected to slow down the embassy's work and lead to a reduction in some practical bilateral exchanges.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would respond after a closer examination of the USA announcement.

The U.S. embassy said on its website that it would suspend all nonimmigrant visa operations across Russian Federation on August 23 and restart them on September 1 "on a greatly reduced scale". "NIV interviews at the US Consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok are suspended until further notice".

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"Capacity for interviews in the future will be greatly reduced because we have had to greatly reduce our staffing levels to comply with the Russian government's requirement", the embassy told applicants in a note on its web site.

While condemning the visa move, Mr Lavrov said Russia would not retaliate against Americans requesting Russian visas. The United States was ranked 25th of countries to which Russians citizens traveled in the first quarter or 2017, former Soviet Union republics notwithstanding. By comparison, the USA consulate in Vladivostok, a city in the far east of Russian Federation, issued just 7,092 non-immigrant visas. In written comments to the Moscow Times, the International Visa Center said the announcement meant the outcomes of 19 applications were now up in the air.

The US issued around 150,000 visas to Russian citizens a year ago, according to the Russian foreign ministry. As part of that response, the USA took back two compounds used by the Russians, one in NY and one on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin last month directed the United States to cut 755 out of about 1,200 employees at the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, after the U.S. Congress passed a tough new law cementing sanctions against Moscow over its aggression in Ukraine and for allegedly meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Trump, who took office pledging better ties with Moscow, had promised to weigh a response.

The United States Embassy in Moscow announced Monday it would temporarily stop issuing all non-immigrant visas in Russian Federation and then severely curtail visa operations as it slashes its staff to comply with the latest salvo in Washington's diplomatic standoff with Moscow.

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They are also looking into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.


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