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The United States embassy in Russia recently announced that nonimmigrant visas would no longer be issued at three US consulates based in Russia. This means that all Russian visitors hoping to head to the United States will have to head to the United States embassy in Moscow. This move has been met with harsh criticism from Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, which accused the United States of trying to provoke the Russian people. His comments went further to say that the move could encourage discontent towards the Russian government by its own people.
The move came following diplomatic tussles between the two countries in which Moscow told the United States that they would have to cut 755 of its diplomatic staff. In response to this demand, the United States cut the number of diplomatic staff in the country to 455. As a result of these cuts, they have now claimed that the United States does not have the staff to handle visa applications and therefore all applications must be processed at the embassy in Moscow.
At the moment, the United States has consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. In July, Russia requested that the United States cut their embassy staff to 455, which is in line with the number of Russian diplomats in the United States. Of those to be let go, the majority were hired locally, so they will not have to return to America.
The diplomatic tensions between Russian and the United States started in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Tensions were stirred further when President Barack Obama declared 35 Russian diplomats persona non grata amid speculation that Russia may have colluded with the Trump team in order to sway the diplomatic process.
Despite the United States making it more difficult for Russian citizens to get nonimmigrant visas, the Russian foreign minister has pledged not to escalate the situation further by imposing similar restrictions on Americans seeking Russian visas. The American restrictions are said to have mainly had an impact on independent travelers, including tourists and those seeking temporary visas for work or study.