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27 Dec, 2020 00:42

Diplomatic war with Moscow a bad idea after all? ‘Understaffed & overstretched’ US Embassy gets rebuke from Russia after complaint

Diplomatic war with Moscow a bad idea after all? ‘Understaffed & overstretched’ US Embassy gets rebuke from Russia after complaint

A Washington Post story bemoaning the state of the US Embassy in Moscow, and blaming Russia for causing a visa war, has been shot down by the Russian diplomatic mission in Washington with a reminder as to who started it all.

The Russian Embassy in Washington pointed the finger at the US late on Friday for initiating the tensions between the two countries. Its statement was released followed the publication of an article in the Washington Post reporting that the US Embassy in Moscow is “understaffed and overstretched” following recent expulsions and due to a protracted diplomatic visa application system.

In particular, the American diplomatic staff had complained that they couldn’t even get visas for specialists to repair faulty equipment, such as elevators and fire alarms.

“The authors once again mislead their readers and seek to place all the blame for problems related to consular and visa matters on the Russian side,” the Russian Embassy responded. “The information contained in the article does not correspond to the real state of affairs.”

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The US is entirely responsible for the situation, the statement continued, arguing that Washington had been the initiator of the “visa war.” The impasse came after the US imposed a rule that meant an employee of the Russian Embassy could receive a permit only when an American diplomat was permitted to enter Russia.

“There were no refusals to issue visas to diplomats and other specialists employed by the US missions,” the statement said. “We act strictly on the basis of reciprocity.”

Last week, the US confirmed it plans to close the US consulates in Vladivostok and Ekaterinburg, leaving Moscow the sole US diplomatic outpost in Russia. All US missions have been operating in a limited capacity since the outbreak of Covid-19, and have struggled with staff shortages in recent years. The decision gives citizens of the world’s largest country only one option, the Moscow office, for US visa applications – and may also create complications for Americans living and working in other Russian cities.

Relations between Moscow and Washington worsened after Crimea was reabsorbed into Russia in 2014, and deteriorated still further when the US accused Russia of meddling in its presidential election in 2016. That year, outgoing President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats just before New Year’s Eve and ordered the closure of two Russian diplomatic compounds. President Vladimir Putin retaliated by demanding the US cut the number of its diplomatic personnel in Russia.

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