Russia has ordered a number of U.S. Embassy staff in Moscow to leave by January 31 in the latest tit-for-tat response between Washington and Moscow amid deteriorating relations.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on December 1 that U.S. Embassy personnel who have been in Moscow for more than three years would have to leave by the end of next month. The move comes after the Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said last week that 27 Russian diplomats will have to leave by January 30, followed by an equal number by June 30, because their visas have not been extended. He said Washington's refusal to extend their visas effectively amounted to the diplomats' expulsion. "We...intend to respond in the corresponding way,” Zakharova told a briefing. "Before July 1 next year, unless Washington waives the three-year rule and compromises, more (U.S.) diplomats will leave in numbers commensurate with the number of Russians announced by the State Department," she said. A State Department spokesperson told RFE/RL that the U.S. action was not an expulsion of Russian diplomats and Moscow had been informed last year that its diplomats would be subject to three-year assignments. “This is not an expulsion. The Russian government has been informed; it can replace those who are departing by assigning other members of its diplomatic corps to the positions. The new procedures are not punitive but have been introduced to enable greater parity between the U.S. and Russian bilateral missions,” the spokesperson said.
Russia and the United States have exchanged several rounds of diplomatic expulsions and imposed other restrictions on their respective diplomatic missions in recent years as relations sink to post-Cold War lows.
Relations have taken a series of hits over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its backing of separatists in the east of that country, its meddling in U.S. elections, the poisoning and jailing of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, cyberattacks, and a host of other malign activities. In July, U.S. diplomatic missions were forced to reduce staff and cut most U.S. citizen services as well as nonimmigrant visa processing after Russia banned the U.S. from hiring local residents for most positions.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow is the only operational U.S. mission in the country after consulates in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg were forced to close because of the restrictions on local staff. Russia announced the ban on almost all non-American staff after Washington expelled Russian diplomats from the United States and tit-for-tat closures of diplomatic facilities in both countries amid deteriorating relations.