The US embassy in Moscow says it is suspending all non-immigrant visa operations across Russia on August 23 and that they will resume on September 1 "on a greatly reduced scale."

The latest measure by the US could pose a serious logistical challenge for some Russians whose country, the worlds largest by territory, stretches across eleven time zones.
The latest measure by the US could pose a serious logistical challenge for some Russians whose country, the worlds largest by territory, stretches across eleven time zones. (Reuters)

The United States on Monday said it was scaling back its visa services in Russia after Moscow ordered it to sharply cut diplomatic staff in retaliation over new US sanctions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the US to reduce its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by 755 people, or by about 60 percent, by September 1, after his US counterpart, Donald Trump, signed into law the new sanctions imposed by Congress.

The US embassy in Russia said the Kremlin's move had forced it to rethink its visa operations and that it was suspending all non-immigrant visa operations across Russia on August 23.    

It said services would be resumed on September 1, but would be offered "on a greatly reduced scale." It would be cancelling an unspecified number of scheduled appointments and asking applicants to reschedule, it said in a statement.

"Capacity for interviews in the future will be greatly reduced because we have had to greatly reduce our staffing levels to comply with the Russian government’s requirement," the embassy told applicants in a note on its web site.

Responding to a question regarding possible retaliatory measures by Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “We will not take it out on American citizens.”

Washington's decision is likely to further sour already battered US-Russia relations. It means Russian citizens wanting to visit the United States for tourism will no longer be able to apply via US consulates outside Moscow and will have to travel to the Russian capital instead.

That will pose a serious logistical challenge for some Russians whose country, the world's largest by territory, stretches across eleven time zones.

The United States has consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

"Visa operations at the US consulates will remain suspended indefinitely," the embassy said.

Russia's decision to reduce the US diplomatic presence called into question Russia’s seriousness about pursuing better relations with Washington, the embassy added, while signalling its new scaled back visa regime could be in place for some time.    

"We will operate at reduced capacity for as long as our staffing levels are reduced," it said. 

The US issued around 150,000 visas to Russian citizens last year, according to the Russian foreign ministry.

Source: Reuters