State department official says ‘we need to make progress soon’ with Russia on increasing number of visas for diplomats
Staff and agencies in Washington
The US embassy in Moscow could stop performing most functions next year unless there is progress with Russia on increasing the number of visas for diplomats, a US official has warned.
The United States earlier this month stopped processing visas in Moscow, and Russians are obliged to travel to the US embassy in Warsaw.
“We need to make progress soon,” a senior state department official told reporters.
“We’re going to confront the situation – not next month, but sometime next year – where it’s just difficult for us to continue with anything other than a caretaker presence at the embassy,” he said.
“We will do everything humanly possible to keep that mission open,” he said, while warning that more functions of the embassy, such as sending diplomatic cables, would become difficult without more staff.
Russia and the United States withdrew their ambassadors in April after the incoming Biden administration issued sanctions and expelled 10 Russian diplomats over actions including the SolarWinds cyber attack and election interference.
Those ambassadors returned in June, but the staff at the embassy in Moscow – the last operational US mission in the country after consulates in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg were shuttered – has shrunk to 120 from about 1,200 in early 2017, the state department official told reporters at a briefing.
He said that the United States lacked staff for basic tasks such as opening and closing the embassy gates, ensuring secure telephone calls and operating the elevators.
Russia on 1 August barred embassies from hiring Russian or third-country staff, forcing the United States to lay off more than 200 locals at missions across Russia, according to the state department.
The United States complains of a lack of reciprocity with Moscow, which counts local staff in its tally of US diplomats, while Washington only factors in Russian nationals in its limit on numbers.
The United States has about 120 people at its Russian missions, far down from 1,200 in 2017, while Russia has 230 people in the United States, excluding those posted in New York for its UN mission.
“They have a much bigger presence here in the United States than we have in Russia,” the official said.
Russia and the United States continue to engage in talks over nuclear threat reduction and climate change, but relations remain strained by issues like the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe and Vladimir Putin’s suppression of his domestic opponents.