Frosty relations between Washington and Moscow enjoyed a slight thaw after it was announced that three US consulates, following months of diplomatic tit-for-tat reciprocal measures, would soon resume “limited” visa services in Russia.
The American consulates in St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Vladivostok will resume non-immigrant visa interviews on December 11, the US Embassy in Moscow said Monday. The processing of non-immigrant visas that do not require interviews resumed last month.
“Our services, however, will not return to the level we maintained prior to the Russian Federation’s unwarranted demand that we dramatically reduce the number of personnel at the US Embassy and our three consulates,” it added in a statement.
The current diplomatic feud between Moscow and Washington began with the expulsion of 35 Russian embassy staff by the outgoing US president, Barack Obama, in late December 2016, as well as the closure of two Russian diplomatic compounds in Washington DC and Maryland.
Although initially hoping to resolve the matter without escalation, Moscow’s patience soon ran out after the Trump administration slapped Russian with a fresh round of sanctions in the summer. The move prompted Moscow to order Washington to reduce the number of US diplomatic personnel in Russia to 455 – the same number of diplomatic staff Russia has in the United States.
Apparently considering Russia’s tit-for-tat response “unwarranted,” Washington announced the suspension of issuing non-immigrant visas across Russia. On September 1, limited visa operations resumed, but only in Moscow. Escalating tension further, the US also forcibly closed the Russian Consulate-General in San Francisco as well as trade missions in Washington and New York.
In a rare reversal of his usually rabid anti-Kremlin rhetoric, former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said Friday that US owes Russia an explanation over the unprecedented property seizures. Meanwhile, the new US Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, stated that “the term reset needs to be taken out” of the diplomatic dictionary, and Moscow and Washington need to focus on the “core issues” and “realpolitik.”