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Washington ponders closing consulates in Vladivostok & Yekaterinburg, significantly reducing footprint in Russia – Kommersant

Washington ponders closing consulates in Vladivostok & Yekaterinburg, significantly reducing footprint in Russia – Kommersant
The US is reportedly considering closing its two remaining consulates in Russia, leaving just a single embassy. The move would mean some Russians would need to fly for over nine hours just to apply for a visa to visit America.

According to diplomatic sources cited by Moscow daily Kommersant, Washington is contemplating shutting down its consulates in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg, the only such sites outside of the capital. The Vladivostok consulate has been temporarily closed since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the consulate in Yekateriburg has been working at a limited capacity. 

The bilateral relationship between Washington and Moscow rapidly deteriorated in 2016, when then-US President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and their families from the country. A year later, after giving up hope that his successor Donald Trump might reverse the move, Russia demanded that America reduce its diplomatic mission down to 455 people – equal to the number of Russian diplomats in the US.

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Then, in 2018, following the alleged poisoning of the Russian-born British intelligence agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, the US expelled another 60 Russian diplomatic employees and closed the Russian consulate general in Seattle. The Kremlin responded by shutting the US consulate general in St. Petersburg.

After the 2018 measures, the US decreased its visa services in Russia. If the proposed moves in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg take place, the capacity to process Russian citizen’s visa applications would be reduced even further, putting added strain on an overloaded system. Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, last year, the wait time for a visa interview at the US Embassy in Moscow stood at 300 days.

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Aside from visa issues, the removal of the US outpost in Vladivostok would also have a negative consequence on the country’s ability to exert its ‘soft power’ in the Far East of Russia, where China has considerable influence.

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