United States to suspend nonimmigrant visa operations in Russian Federation

United States to suspend nonimmigrant visa operations in Russian Federation

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin said U.S. diplomatic institutions in Russia must cut more than 700 staff members by September, in a measure widely seen as retaliation for the U.S. strengthening its sanctions against Russia.

Staff reductions have already begun, according to USA embassy officials.

The move, which will hit Russian business travellers, tourists and students, was the latest in a series of bilateral measures that have driven relations to a new post-Cold War low, thwarting hopes on both sides that they might improve after U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected the US explanation that it was forced to suspend visas because of reduced staffing levels.

The US embassy in Russian Federation said the Kremlin's move had forced it to rethink its visa operations and that it was suspending all non-immigrant visa operations across Russian Federation on August 23.

Lavrov believes that the visa decision was made to worsen Russian citizens" attitude toward the authorities, and added the move resembled the logic of the masterminds of the "color revolutions, ' as well as "the purest form of the inertia of the Obama administration". It would be cancelling an unspecified number of scheduled appointments and asking applicants to reschedule, it said in a statement.

"We'll see, I can say one thing, we will not take it out on the USA citizens".

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The issue is a sensitive one for the Russian government as Russian citizens since the fall of the Soviet Union have grown quite used to traveling to the United States, and other Western destinations.

"That is why, the students who wanted to study exactly in the U.S. and turned to us at the end of spring, failed to be in time for these programs in July-August", she added.

Almost a quarter of a million Russian tourists visited the USA last year, according to Russian tourism officials.

Even before the US announcement, consular work at the USA mission in Russian Federation had slowed significantly, according to daily data published by the State Department and tracked by Reuters.

President Vladimir Putin, reacting to new sanctions imposed by the US Congress which President Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law, last month ordered Washington to cut diplomatic and technical staff in Russian Federation by 755 people, or by about 60 percent, by Sept 1. It added that "visa operations will resume on a greatly reduced scale" on September 1, and available only at its Moscow embassies; matters regarding visas "will be suspended until further notice" at USA consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

The U.S. embassy said on Monday that Russia's decision to cut its staff "calls into question Russia's seriousness about pursuing better relations".

They are also looking into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.

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