US complies with Russian ban, sack local embassy staff

The United States said on Friday it had laid off nearly 200 local employees working for its diplomatic missions in Russia before the August 1 deadline set by the Kremlin for their dismissal. The move is the latest in a series of measures taken by both sides that have strained US-Russian relations.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the layoffs were regrettable and the United States hoped to avoid, despite a sharp deterioration in relations between Moscow and Washington, which showed little sign of improvement.

FILE – Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington, July 12, 2021.

“These unfortunate measures will have a severe impact on the US mission in Russia’s operations, potentially including the safety of our personnel as well as our ability to engage in diplomacy with the Russian government,” Blinken said in a statement. .

“While we regret the actions of the Russian government forcing a reduction in our services and operations, the United States will honor its commitments while continuing to pursue a predictable and stable relationship with Russia,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry was silent on the matter, and the Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a question.

Russia earlier this year announced a ban on nearly all non-U.S. Staff from the embassy in Moscow and consulates in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. This came in response to US expulsions of Russian diplomats and the silent shutdowns of many diplomatic facilities in each country.

These expulsions and closures came against the backdrop of US sanctions imposed for Russian interference in the 2020 US presidential election, the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain and the arrest of the figurehead. opposition Alexey Navalny and the crackdown on his supporters, as well as involvement in the SolarWind hack of US federal agencies. These are all activities that Russia has denied.

After the ban was announced, the embassy suspended routine consular services and, since May, has only processed immigrant visas in life-saving emergencies.

The suspension of consular services has also left Russian businessmen, exchange students and dating partners adrift as they are no longer able to obtain US visas in Russia.

Still, the United States had been cautiously optimistic that the Russian decision could be overturned at last month’s meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva. But those hopes evaporated even after the two sides resumed strategic arms control talks this week.

FILE - US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16, 2021.

FILE – US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16, 2021.

So Friday’s announcement sealed the fate of the jobs of 182 local workers who worked as clerical and clerical staff, drivers and contractors at U.S. facilities. Only security guards who work outside the gates of the complexes have been exempted from the ban.

“The United States is extremely grateful for the tireless dedication and commitment of our staff and contractors employed locally at the United States Mission in Russia,” said Blinken. “We thank them for their contribution to global operations and their work to improve relations between our two countries. Their dedication, expertise and friendship have been a pillar of Mission Russia for decades.

“We appreciate our deep connection with the Russian people,” added Blinken. “Our interpersonal relationships are the foundation of our bilateral relations.”