Russia, US ease tensions with visa deal for Moscow school

Russia last month blocked visas for 30 teachers and administrators at the school, founded in 1949 by the US, British and Canadian governments to educate the children of diplomats.
Russia last month blocked visas for 30 teachers and administrators at the school, founded in 1949 by the US, British and Canadian governments to educate the children of diplomats.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE MAPS

MOSCOW (BLOOMBERG) - Russia's Foreign Ministry has softened its refusal to issue visas for teachers at a Moscow school run by the US, British and Canadian embassies amid signs of a slight thaw in tensions between the Kremlin and Washington.

The Foreign Ministry on Thursday (Aug 1) issued seven of the 30 visas requested, which will allow all current students to return, according to an email sent to parents by Rhonda Norris, the director of the Anglo-American School of Moscow. Because of the lack of availability of teachers, the school cannot yet confirm enrolment to some 50 new pupils, she said.

Russia last month blocked visas for 30 teachers and administrators at the school, founded in 1949 by the US, British and Canadian governments to educate the children of diplomats, in a move that US Ambassador Jon Huntsman said used children "as pawns in diplomatic disputes". Moscow accused the US of misrepresenting the situation, saying it denied only teachers who had applied for visas as embassy employees with diplomatic passports.

"There's progress, made on the basis of reciprocity," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a text message. "At the same time, we support a full settlement of this issue."

Russia had previously sought the US's agreement to boost the number of support personnel at its Washington embassy in exchange for the teachers' visas.

A spokeswoman for the US Embassy did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

The deal comes as President Donald Trump called Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to offer help battling wildfires raging across Siberia. Putin declined assistance but said it was a sign that the two countries could restore "full-fledged relations" in the future. Washington and Moscow have been at loggerheads after American intelligence agencies determined that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign in support of Trump. The US imposed sanctions on Russia and there were tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats.

 
 
 

FORCED TO CLOSE

The Anglo-American School has found itself caught up in past political spats between the US and Russia. Its St. Petersburg campus was forced to close after a round of diplomatic expulsions last year in the wake of the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain.

During the waning days of President Barack Obama's term in 2016, CNN reported that the Kremlin planned to order the school closed after a new round of US sanctions for its alleged interference in the elections. Instead, Putin declined to retaliate in hopes that the incoming Trump administration would establish better relations.

Only a small minority of students at the Anglo-American School are children of diplomats at its founding embassies. Children from other diplomatic missions also study there, as well as those of international businessmen and wealthy Russians. It has about 1,200 students from more than 60 countries enrolled in pre-kindergarten through high school.