U.S. Says Russia Has Postponed Restrictions on Embassy in Moscow

Russia formally designated the U.S. “unfriendly,” but put off imposing new restrictions on its embassy in Moscow, as the two former Cold War rivals prepare for a possible presidential summit.

The government also branded the Czech Republic for “unfriendly actions,” but stopped short of the full ban on hiring local staff that the designation envisions, according to a document published Friday on the official website. The Czech mission can employ up to 19 local staff, it said.

Russia had announced the moves amid rising tensions with the West and in the wake of expulsions of its diplomats by the U.S., Czech Republic and their allies. Under the new rules, countries designated as having taken “unfriendly actions” against Russia are subject to bans on their embassies hiring local staff. Russian media had reported that the government was planning to slap more European countries with the designation, but the official list included only the two. The list could still be amended, however.

Last month, Russia announced the U.S. wouldn’t be allowed to employ any local staff as part of a package of retaliatory measures for the U.S. decision to expel 10 Russian diplomats and impose sanctions on the country for its alleged meddling in the 2020 elections and role in the SolarWinds hack. Moscow has denied both those allegations.

U.S. Reprieve

But Friday, the U.S. embassy said Russian authorities notified it that the ban -- which the U.S. said forced it to cut just about all visa and other consular services in Russia -- would be postponed. As a result, the U.S. mission in Moscow said it is resuming provision of some immigrant visas, as well as services to American citizens, through July 16.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said later it had given the embassy until Aug. 1 to implement the ban, which was codified in Friday’s government order. “This issue has been resolved finally and irreversibly,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote in a text message. While Moscow’s diplomatic missions don’t usually use domestic employees abroad, the practice is common among some foreign ones in Russia.

A senior Russian official said the decision to delay imposing the local-hire ban on the U.S. was part of a low-profile effort between the two countries to repair diplomatic ties after years of tit-for-tat expulsions and other pressure. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters that aren’t public.

Andrey Kortunov, head of the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council, called the decision “a victory for common sense and hopes for the summit.”

Friday’s unexpected announcement of the two-month reprieve comes just days before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of an Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Iceland to discuss a possible summit between the leaders of their two countries. Both the Kremlin and the White House have said they’d like to see an end to spiraling tensions.

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