MOSCOW – The U.S. diplomatic mission to Russia said Monday that it planned to sharply reduce visa services because of Moscow’s order to cut its staff, the latest in a series of tit-for-tat penalties by the two countries.
The embassy said in a statement that it would suspend for eight days the issuance in Moscow of all nonimmigrant visas — like those for business, work and tourism — and that it would not issue any visas in the three consulates outside the Russian capital “for as long as our staffing levels are reduced.”
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said during a news conference in Moscow that the announcement was “another attempt to make the Russian citizen angry about the actions of the Russian government.”
Lavrov said that he doubted the embassy’s justification for the cutbacks in visa services. “The American diplomatic school, diplomatic service, just as the Russian one, has great traditions and experience in preparing professional staff,” he said. He added that the U.S. argument that its diplomatic workers cannot issue the same number of visas with reduced staff disrespected the “capabilities and possibilities of the American diplomatic service.”
Lavrov said the ministry was studying the matter and would have a response at a later date.
Last month, Congress imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Russia for its meddling in elections and its aggressive behavior toward neighboring countries. In response, President Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S. Embassy to cut 755 positions in the country — roughly two-thirds — by Sept. 1.
Staff reductions have already begun, the embassy said.
The U.S. Embassy and the consulates in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg issued 182,958 nonimmigrant visas in 2016, 136,665 of those in Moscow, according to an official report.
Under the new procedures, Russians in or near Moscow will have to wait as long as six months for a U.S. visa. For those in distant regions, especially the Far East, travel to the United States will be much more difficult, if not impossible.
“They have direct flights to the U.S., but, of course, few people will want to travel over the whole country to Moscow to get a visa first,” Irina Tyurina, a spokesman for the Russian Tourism Industry Union told the Interfax news agency.