US officials warn Americans against ALL travel to Russia, citing 'terrorism' concerns & inability to provide consular support
A new travel advisory, issued on Monday by diplomats, gives Russia the same danger categorization as countries including Afghanistan, Uganda and Syria. As well as specifically advising against visits to southern regions like Chechnya and Crimea, US citizens are now being told to avoid the world’s largest country altogether.
The statement cites “terrorism” as one reason for US tourists to steer clear of the nation, despite the fact no serious incidents have been reported in recent years. While a number of other European nations have received similar categorizations over the Covid-19 situation, destinations like France and Germany avoid the highest level of warning, despite enduring more frequent terrorist incidents.
In addition, the US officials caution against travel due to purported “harassment by Russian government security officials” and what it calls “arbitrary enforcement of local law.” The officials claim that “spurious charges” have been leveled against Americans, and that religious workers, as well as government personnel, could be at risk.
Since President Vladimir Putin met with his US counterpart Joe Biden in Geneva earlier this month, a number of prisoner exchanges have been anticipated. Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian airplane pilot, is mooted to be at the top of Moscow's list after he was arrested and taken to the US in 2011, where he was convicted over drug-smuggling allegations.
For the American side, Paul Whelan, a former US Marine and IT consultant arrested in Russia on espionage charges, is said to be a priority for any exchange. He made a personal video appeal to Biden from behind bars in the run up to the summit, and the American president announced that he had raised Whelan's case with Putin.
Another inmate who Biden discussed with his counterpart was another former Marine, 29-year old Trevor Reed. Reed was arrested in Moscow in 2019 and handed nine years in prison for assaulting a police officer after a night of heavy drinking. Both Whelan and Reed deny the charges against them.
At the same time, Washington's new travel advisory cites its limited ability to provide support to US citizens from its embassy in Moscow. In April, the diplomatic mission announced it would reduce its staff numbers by around 75% after it was banned from employing locals as part of a decree signed by Putin in response to “unfriendly acts," rules imposed by Washington on Russia’s diplomats in America.
As a result, the US embassy in Russia will no longer “offer routine notarial services, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, or renewal passport services for the foreseeable future,” its envoys said. In 2018, the US closed its consulate in St Petersburg and, in December last year, shuttered its offices in both the Ural city of Ekaterinburg and the Far East capital of Vladivostok. The decision, which Washington said came as part of a dispute over diplomatic representation and would save cash, left America with no diplomatic representation in Russia outside of Moscow.
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