In a tit-for-tat move in the ongoing diplomatic spat between the Kremlin and Washington, the U.S. embassy in Moscow temporarily ended approving non-immigrant visas to Russian citizens on Monday.
The temporary halt, set to begin on Wednesday, Aug. 23, is expected to hit Russian tourists, businesspersons and students the hardest.
In a statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Moscow, the resumption of visa services will begin on Sept. 1, but at a “greatly reduced scale.”
Similarly, the embassy described the temporary halt and resumption due to embassy cuts to staff ordered by the Kremlin earlier in the summer.
On July 29, Russia ordered 755 U.S. embassy personnel to leave the country in response to U.S. sanctions. Current embassy and consular staff levels in the Russian Federation rest at 455.
According to the America’s Russian embassy website, non-immigrant visa interviews will be conducted only at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Consular offices in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok will no longer issue visas to applicants.
At a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared limitations to immigrant visas a politically motivated stunt.
“It would be disrespectful of us to say that equalizing the number of employees of U.S. foreign missions in Russia and the Russian foreign missions in the United States would seriously limit the U.S. diplomatic service’s capabilities to perform its consular functions, including issuance of visas. I believe the true reason for the decisions announced today is different. My first impression was that the decision is another attempt to incur Russian citizens’ displeasure with the authorities.”
In related news, the Kremlin announced Monday that deputy foreign minister Anatoly Antonov, a 62-year-old former defense minister, will serve as Russia’s next ambassador to the U.S., replacing long-time diplomat Sergey Kislyak.
[RT News] [Reuters] [Photo courtesy AFP via Sputnik News]