U.S. scales back visa services in Russia
after Putin cuts its staff
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[August 21, 2017]
By Polina Devitt and Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States said
on Monday it was scaling back its visa services in Russia after Moscow
ordered it to sharply cut its diplomatic staff in retaliation over new
President Vladimir Putin, reacting to new sanctions imposed by the U.S.
Congress which President Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law, last
month ordered Washington to cut diplomatic and technical staff in Russia
by 755 people, or by about 60 percent, by Sept. 1.
The U.S. embassy in Russia said on Monday the move had forced it to
rethink its visa operations and that it was suspending all non-immigrant
visa operations across Russia on Aug. 23.
It said services would be resumed on Sept. 1, but would be offered "on a
greatly reduced scale." It would be cancelling an unspecified number of
scheduled appointments and asking applicants to reschedule, it said in a
"Capacity for interviews in the future will be greatly reduced because
we have had to greatly reduce our staffing levels to comply with the
Russian government’s requirement," the embassy told applicants in a note
on its web site.
The move, which is likely to further sour already battered U.S.-Russia
relations, means Russian citizens wanting to visit the United States for
tourism will no longer be able to apply via U.S. consulates outside
Moscow and will have to travel to the Russian capital instead.
That will pose a serious logistical challenge for some Russians whose
country, the world's largest by territory, stretches across eleven time
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Vehicles drive past the embassy of the U.S. in Moscow, Russia August
21, 2017. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
The United States has consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and
"Visa operations at the U.S. consulates will remain suspended
indefinitely," the embassy said.
Russia's decision to reduce the U.S. diplomatic presence had called
into question Russia’s seriousness about pursuing better relations
with Washington, the embassy added.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry,
said earlier this month that the United States had issued around
150,000 visas to Russian citizens last year.
The U.S. embassy signaled its new scaled back visa regime could be
in place for some time.
"We will operate at reduced capacity for as long as our staffing
levels are reduced," it said.
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Christian Lowe)
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