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26 Jan, 2022 20:45

Washington tells Russian ambassador he might have to leave

An ongoing diplomatic visa row between Moscow and the US can only get worse, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov believes
Washington tells Russian ambassador he might have to leave

The US State Department has told Russian diplomats that Ambassador Anatoly Antonov would have to leave the US by April if Moscow fails to meet certain demands by Washington, Antonov himself told journalists on Wednesday.

The Russian ambassador would only be able to stay in the US if Moscow grants visas to the bodyguards of the US envoy to Russia, John Sullivan, Antonov explained, adding that this is all part of increasingly tense relations between the two nations.

“There is no progress when it comes to the [Russian] diplomatic property [in the US] or visas or the development of relations themselves,” the Russian ambassador said, adding that he believes the situation can only get worse from now on.

He also said that the Russian diplomats try to contact the State Department every two weeks and have already sent between 400 and 500 notes requesting access to the Russian diplomatic compounds in San Francisco, Washington, New York, and Seattle. All the compounds were seized back under the Trump administration between 2017 and 2018. At least some of the facilities were officially Russia’s diplomatic property and Moscow blasted their seizure by the US as an illegal property takeover and an openly hostile act.

So far, the US has only “paid lip service” to the Russian requests but has done nothing about them, the ambassador said, adding that American diplomats “are reluctant to accede even to this very basic request” and let the diplomats visit the property seized from them.

“Everything that has been happening over the recent months … only suggests that the US has taken an increasingly hardline stance” on Russia’s diplomatic presence on American soil, the ambassador said, adding that Washington continues to push Russian diplomats and their families out of the country.

The US has said that Russian diplomats can stay on its territory for no longer than three years and now demand some of the embassy staff members leave earlier than initially planned, Antonov said. A total of 27 people would have to leave the US by January 30 and another 28 people would have to return to Russia by June 30 under the terms Washington set back in September 2021.

The US stopped short of declaring them persona non grata but said that if they fail to leave in time, they would be stripped of their diplomatic immunity and could be arrested, the ambassador explained.

A total of 300 people, including diplomats and their families, have had to leave the US over the four years Antonov served as ambassador, he said, adding that he does not see any signs this negative trend might change in the near future. The US has not commented on the Russian ambassador’s latest statements.

Both the Russian Embassy in Washington and the American Embassy in Moscow are currently suffering from staff shortages. Multiple rounds of tit-for-tat expulsions over the years have left diplomatic missions limiting their services, such as the US decision to no longer process visa applications by Russians.

Back in November 2021, Antonov said that Moscow is in favor of lifting all the restrictions imposed over recent years and getting both embassies’ work back to normal.