The United States announced on Friday that it had fired nearly 200 local employees working for its diplomatic missions in Russia ahead of the August 1 deadline set by the Kremlin for their dismissal. The move is the latest in a series of moves by both sides that have strained US-Russian relations.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the layoffs are regrettable and one the United States hoped to avoid, despite a sharp deterioration in relations between Moscow and Washington, which show few signs of improving.
“These unfortunate actions will severely affect the U.S. mission in Russia 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 remained silent on the issue, and the Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a question.
Earlier this year, Russia announced a ban on almost all non-US personnel from the embassy in Moscow and consulates in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. This came in response to US expulsions of Russian diplomats and tit-for-tat closures of numerous diplomatic facilities in every country.
These evictions 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, the arrest of the figure of the opposition Alexey Navalny and the repression of his supporters, as well as his 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, only processes immigrant visas in life-threatening emergencies.
The suspension of consular services has also left Russian businessmen, exchange students and romantic 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 reversed 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.
Thus, Friday’s announcement sealed the employment fate of 182 local employees who worked as office and clerical staff, drivers and contractors at US 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 locally employed personnel and contractors at the U.S. Mission in Russia,” Blinken said. “We thank them for their contributions across operations and for their work to improve relations between our two countries. Their dedication, expertise and friendship have been a mainstay of Mission Russia for decades.
“We appreciate our deep connection with the Russian people,” Blinken added. “Our people-to-people relationships are the foundation of our bilateral relations.”