The U.S. Embassy in Moscow cut 75% of its staff Wednesday after the Kremlin banned the embassy from employing Russians, marking the latest deterioration in the U.S.-Russia relationship and reducing the embassy’s services to the bare bones, including “life-and-death” visa applications.
- The new order will make it impossible for Russians, international students and significant others of Americans to obtain visas, and will make it more difficult for Americans living in Russia, or visiting Russia, to register their newborns, according to the Associated Press.
- The Kremlin directive is the latest sign the relationship between the U.S. and Russia has significantly deteriorated.
- In April, President Joe Biden imposed economic sanctions on Russia for last December’s SolarWinds cyberattacks and interference in the 2020 election, and in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin recalled the Russian ambassador to the U.S. after Biden called Putin a killer in an interview.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last month Russia rarely employs “local personnel” in countries they have embassies in and therefore “have the full right to transfer this practice” to the U.S. Embassy.
Tensions have mounted between the U.S. and Russia since Biden took office. Putin had an extremely positive relationship with former President Donald Trump while in contrast, as vice president in 2014, Biden famously told Putin he didn’t think the then-Russian prime minister had “a soul.” In addition to the economic sanctions the U.S. levied against Russia in April, Biden also sanctioned six Russian companies and expelled 10 Russian foreign officials from the Russian Embassy in D.C. At the time, Biden called the actions “proportionate” and Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the sanctions were “illegal” and “the principle of reciprocity applies in this case.” The U.S. has also taken issue with Russia’s buildup of troops near the Ukrainian border. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Ukraine earlier this month and said the U.S. was “watching” the military activity “very, very carefully.”
Recent cyberattacks on the U.S. could further harm the U.S.-Russia relationship. On Monday, the FBI concluded that a ransomware group, DarkSide, was responsible for the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline Company which has forced the major fuel pipeline offline since last week. While Biden said Russian officials don’t seem to be behind the attack, DarkSide looks to have originated in Russia, and Biden said Russia may “have some responsibility.”