US bids farewell to Russian staff at Moscow embassy

About 200 local workers were let go before Kremlin deadline

The US on Friday said it has laid off about 200 local staffers working for its diplomatic missions in Russia before an August 1 deadline set by the Kremlin for their dismissal.

The move is the latest in a series of measures taken by both sides that have strained US-Russia relations.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the layoffs are regrettable and something the US had hoped to avert, despite a sharp deterioration in ties between Moscow and Washington that show few signs of improvement.

“These unfortunate measures will severely impact the US mission to Russia's operations, potentially including the safety of our personnel as well as our ability to engage in diplomacy with the Russian government,” Mr Blinken said.

“Although we regret the actions of the Russian government forcing a reduction in our services and operations, the United States will follow through on our commitments while continuing to pursue a predictable and stable relationship with Russia,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry was silent on the matter and the Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a query.

This year, Russia announced a ban on almost all non-American staff at the embassy in Moscow as well as at consulates in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, The ban was enacted in response to US expulsions of Russian diplomats and tit-for-tat closures of numerous diplomatic sites in each country.

Those expulsions and closures came in the context of US sanctions imposed over Russian interference in the 2020 US presidential election, the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, the arrest of opposition figure Alexei Navalny and a crackdown on his supporters, as well as Russian involvement in the SolarWinds hack of US federal agencies.

Russia has denied all US accusations.

After the announcement of the ban, the embassy suspended routine consular services and since May has been processing immigrant visas only in the case of life-and-death emergencies.

The suspension of consular services has left Russian businessmen, exchange students and romantic partners adrift because they are no longer able to obtain US visas in Russia.

Still, the US had been cautiously optimistic that the Russian decision might be reversed at last month’s meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

But those hopes evaporated even after the two sides resumed strategic arms control talks this week.

Thus, Friday’s announcement sealed the fate of 182 locally employed staffers who worked as office and clerical staff, drivers and contractors at the US sites.

Only security guards who work outside the gates of the compounds were exempted from the ban.

Updated: July 30th 2021, 7:14 PM