Moscow calls US move to sharply scale back visa services an attempt to stir up unrest in Russia

 The US embassy in Russia said in a statement it was suspending all non-immigrant visa operations across Russia on Aug 23 and that they would resume on Sept 1 "on a greatly reduced scale."
The US embassy in Russia said in a statement it was suspending all non-immigrant visa operations across Russia on Aug 23 and that they would resume on Sept 1 "on a greatly reduced scale."PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday (Aug 21) that a US decision to sharply scale back its visa services in Russia was an attempt to stir up ill-feeling among ordinary Russians against the authorities.  

Lavrov, speaking at a joint news conference in Moscow with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, was responding to a question about a US decision to reduce its visa services in Russia after Moscow ordered the United States to sharply cut its diplomatic and technical staff.

“The American authors of these decisions have come up with another attempt to stir up discontent among Russian citizens about the actions of the Russian authorities. It’s a well known logic ... and this it the logic of those who organise colour revolutions,” Lavrov told reporters.  

Lavrov, who said the decision suggested Washington didn’t think its reduced diplomatic staff could adapt to new circumstances, said Russia would carefully study the US decision and promised that Moscow would not take out its anger on ordinary US citizens. 

President Vladimir Putin last month ordered Washington to cut diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by 755 people, or by about 60 per cent, by Sept 1, reacting to new sanctions imposed by the US Congress which President Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law.

The US embassy in Russia said on Monday the move had forced it to rethink its visa operations and that it was suspending all non-immigrant visa operations across Russia on Aug 23.  It said services would be resumed on Sept 1, but would be offered “on a greatly reduced scale.”

It would be cancelling an unspecified number of scheduled appointments and asking applicants to reschedule, it said in a statement.

“Capacity for interviews in the future will be greatly reduced because we have had to greatly reduce our staffing levels to comply with the Russian government’s requirement,” the embassy told applicants in a note on its web site.  

The move, which is likely to further sour already battered US-Russia relations, means Russian citizens wanting to visit the United States for tourism will no longer be able to apply via US consulates outside Moscow and will have to travel to the Russian capital instead.  

That will pose a serious logistical challenge for some Russians whose country, the world’s largest by territory, stretches across 11 time zones.  The United States has consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

“Visa operations at the US consulates will remain suspended indefinitely,” the embassy said.  

Russia’s decision to reduce the US diplomatic presence had called into question Russia’s seriousness about pursuing better relations with Washington, the embassy added.  Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said earlier this month that the United States had issued around 150,000 visas to Russian citizens last year.  

The US embassy signalled its new scaled back visa regime could be in place for some time.

“We will operate at reduced capacity for as long as our staffing levels are reduced,” it said.