The U.S. State Department is abandoning its last two consulates in Russia, leaving only the embassy in Moscow – at a time of heightened tensions.
The administration of outgoing US President Donald Trump wants to close the two remaining US consulates in Russia. As the U.S. State Department confirmed to the AFP news agency, the U.S. representation in Vladivostok is to be closed and the consulate in Yekaterinburg will cease operations for the time being. After that, the embassy in Moscow would be the last U.S. diplomatic representation in Russia.
According to the ministry, the decision to close the consulates was made after consultations with U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan. It was a matter of “ensuring the safe operation of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Russian Federation,” the ministry said.
The U.S. TV channel CNN had previously reported that the measure was a reaction to the personnel cap that Russia had imposed on the U.S. in 2017. That cap, it said, had created a “stalemate” for the U.S. in applying for diplomatic visas.
Ten diplomats from the affected consulates will now be transferred to the embassy in Moscow, the U.S. State Department confirmed. Thirty-three Russian employees will lose their jobs as a result.
Increased tensions between the countries
It remained unclear whether the closures will take place before future U.S. President Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20. Biden is currently preparing to take office amid heightened tensions between Russia and the United States.
In March 2018, Moscow had ordered the closure of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg as a result of a dispute over the poison attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal. For its part, however, Washington does not want to take action against Russian missions in the United States.
Meanwhile, a large-scale cyberattack on U.S. government agencies is causing new trouble between Washington and Moscow. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that Russia was “pretty much certainly” behind the attack. Trump had contradicted Pompeo on Saturday, coming to Russia’s defense. Russia itself denies any involvement in the attacks.