U.S. Cuts Visa Services in Moscow as Russia Squeezes Embassy

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it would slash visa and consular services following a Russian ban on hiring local staff in the latest fallout from tensions between the former Cold War rivals.

The Russian hiring restriction will force a 75% cut in the consular work force, the embassy said in a website statement, and services will be restricted to a minimum starting May 12.

Russia announced the new limits on April 16 as part of series of retaliatory moves against the U.S. decision to expel 10 Russian diplomats and impose new sanctions for Moscow’s alleged role in the SolarWinds cyberattack and meddling in the U.S. election last year. The Kremlin denies those charges.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov played down the impact of the restrictions, noting that U.S. visa services have been limited for at least a year amid the pandemic. “The source of all this was the unfriendly actions of the United States,” he said.

Peskov said the Kremlin is disappointed with the first 100 days of the administration of President Joe Biden. “We expected better,” he said, saying the positive of the extension of the New Start nuclear-arms agreement was offset by the “burden of negative that we accumulated over these 100 days” in the relationship.

The embassy moves are the latest in a widening diplomatic battle between Russia and the West. Several east European nations expelled Russian envoys after the Czech Republic accused Moscow’s secret services of responsibility for a deadly 2014 blast. Russia responded by ousting diplomats from those countries.

The Kremlin is planning to expand the ban on local employees for embassies to a series of what it calls “unfriendly” countries, but hasn’t released that list yet. Russia doesn’t use local employees at its diplomatic posts, but many foreign embassies rely on them for visa issuance and other services.

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