An American decision to refuse to grant new visas to the families of dozens of Russian envoys will be met with retaliation, one of Moscow’s top diplomats has blasted, as ties between the two nations worsen over embassy cutbacks.
In an interview with RIA Novosti on Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that the refusal to allow diplomats’ spouses and children to remain is a step that has effectively forced Moscow’s representatives out of the country. “We will respond to this,” he said, “and we warned the Americans, that in order to prevent further reduction in our staff we can’t not respond.”
Earlier in the day, the Russian Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, announced that Washington had refused visa accreditation to the families of 27 Russian diplomats, and that they would need to leave the country by January 30. Moscow’s also said that an additional 28 would be leaving by June 30, bringing the total to 55 diplomats heading home by mid-2022.
The row over the number of diplomats stationed across the two countries has raged on for a number of years. Last month, US President Joe Biden said that the American staff in Russia had shrunk to 120 from 1,200 in early 2017, and that it was difficult to continue with anything but a “caretaker presence.” Washington has also ordered the closure of its consulates across the world’s largest country.
Earlier this year, the US embassy in Moscow stopped processing non-diplomatic visas and designated Russian citizens as “homeless nationals” who can apply for visas in third-party countries.
Moscow was indignant at the decision, saying, “American diplomats have for many years been destroying the system of consular services in Russia. They have turned a technical procedure, a routine one for the 21st century, into a real hell.” Officials have also questioned why the US needs such a large number of envoys, as well as foreign staff, just to process visas.
Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June for their first summit during Biden’s presidency. Afterwards, the countries discussed normalizing embassy services. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said they made no progress due to American attempts to pressure Russia into agreeing to Washington’s terms.