US Mission Russia: Mass Termination of Local Staff, Severe Reduction in Consular Services Effective May 12

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On April 30, the US Embassy in Moscow issued a Message to U.S. Citizens: U.S. Mission Russia – Reduction of Consular Services (30 April, 2021)

Reduction of Consular Services – Effective May 12, U.S. Embassy Moscow will reduce consular services offered to include only emergency U.S. citizen services and a very limited number of age-out and life or death emergency immigrant visas. These service reductions are necessary due to the Russian government’s April 23 notification of its intention to prohibit U.S. Mission Russia from employing foreign nationals in any capacity. Non-immigrant visa processing for non-diplomatic travel will cease.

Embassy Moscow will not offer routine notarial services, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, or renewal passport services for the foreseeable future. If you are resident in Russia and require a new U.S. passport to remain legally present, or if you require an emergency U.S. passport for a demonstrable, life or death emergency (booking travel with an expired U.S. passport does not qualify) please send an email to moscowacs@state.gov and we will work to accommodate your request. Provision of emergency services to U.S. citizens in Russia may also be delayed or limited due to staff’s constrained ability to travel outside of Moscow.

If you are a U.S. citizen present in Russia and your visa has expired, we strongly urge you to depart Russia before the June 15 deadline set by the Russian government. If you plan to remain in Russia past this deadline, please visit your local Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) office to start the necessary paperwork as recently suggested by MVD.  Embassy Moscow is unable to answer any specific questions about Russian residency or Russian visas, as this process is managed entirely by the Russian government.

We regret that the actions of the Russian government have forced us to reduce our consular work force by 75%, and will endeavor to offer to U.S. citizens as many services as possible.

We understand that the Russian Foreign Ministry has already labeled locally employed staff working for the US Mission in Russia as “spies.” Given the LE staff currently imprisoned in Turkey, and the State Department’s inability to secure their release, this is worrisome. We hope to write a follow-up.
The last OIG inspection of US Mission Russia was conducted in 2013, a year after Putin’s return to office. At that time, State/OIG reported that across Mission Russia, employees “face intensified pressure by the Russian security services at a level not seen since the days of the Cold War.” The report also indicates at that time that the mission employed 1,279 staff, including 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed (LE) staff positions from 35 U.S. Government agencies. These numbers are from 2013, so the count on U.S. direct-hire positions may have changed significantly given the diplomatic skirmishes the last several years. We’re not sure about the LE numbers either but we’re looking.
Note that the Embassy’s consular sections and general services typically have the most number of locally hired employees. With the mass termination of locally employed staff,  US Mission Russia will be on its own with no local staff support for visa services, American services, emergency services to American citizens, maintenance and repairs, procurement of goods/services, motorpool, housing, health unit, cashier, and on and on.

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#HavanaSyndrome: Directed-Energy Attacks Now Reported in D.C.

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On April 28, NBC’s Josh Lederman reported that a group of Canadian diplomats have accessed Canada’s government of withholding information about new cases of brain injury resulting from “Havana Syndrome”.  The report also says that the diplomats are citing “unacceptable delays” on coordinating care for Canadians affected, including numerous children who were accompanying their parents in Cuba. “Who knows what the long-term impacts will be?” the diplomats wrote.
Who knows what the long-term effect will be for the employees affected and the family members who were at these posts? For the State Department, the magic number appears to remain at 41 for those officially diagnosed. We do not have the number of employees who were not officially counted but whose lives and health were upended by the Department’s botched response to these attacks. We do not even know how many Foreign Service kids were similarly affected by these attacks.  Given the Department’s poor track record of handing these incidents going back to Moscow in the 1970’s, we need to keep asking questions.  Congress needs to step up in its oversight.
Back in early April, one of the questions we asked the State Department is to confirm that the mystery illness has been reported domestically (WH staffer in Arlington, a couple at UPENN)?  The State Department refused to answer that question and all our other questions.  See the rest of the questions here: Havana Syndrome Questions @StateDept Refuses to Answer.  We added a submitted question: #17. Why not expand the mandate of Ambassador Spratlen to include instances of previous microwave attacks, since those episodes were handled so badly by the State Department? Here is a little background: https://shoeone.blogspot.com/2013/09/moscow-microwaves.html
CNN is now reporting that “federal agencies are investigating at least two possible incidents on US soil, including one near the White House in November of last year, that appear similar to mysterious, invisible attacks that have led to debilitating symptoms for dozens of US personnel abroad. Multiple sources familiar with the matter tell CNN that while the Pentagon and other agencies probing the matter have reached no clear conclusions on what happened, the fact that such an attack might have taken place so close to the White House is particularly alarming.”
So there. Now that this has become “particularly alarming,” maybe we’ll learn some more?
Pardon me, what do you mean  …. “NO”!?
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U.S. Senate Confirms Victoria Nuland as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (State/P)

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

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US Mission India Now on ‘Voluntary Departure’ for Family Members of USG Employees (Updated)

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Update 4/29/21 at 8:23 PST : The State Department’s official word on US Mission India’s authorized departure via the DPB of April 29, 2021:

QUESTION: The – in addition to this aid, you guys put out this new travel notice, travel alert today, which mentioned the authorized departure for families of U.S. government personnel at the embassy and the, what is it, four consulates. I’m just curious. Is this by popular demand? Were there people – and I know you don’t want to get into numbers or anything, but were people wanting to leave and have people left already under this – the authorized departure?

MR PRICE: Well, thanks for that question. And I think it’s important to speak for just a moment about what this was and importantly what this was not. Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State authorized the voluntary departure, so-called authorized departure, of family members of embassy – at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the consulates throughout the country. Authorized departure doesn’t force anyone to leave; it doesn’t require anyone to leave. It gives these family members the option to depart if they wish. Departure, again, is not required.

There’s also been I think some misreporting, perhaps a misperception, that we provided revised guidance to private American citizens in India. That is not true. There was a pro forma reissuance of the travel advisory, the level four travel advisory that had previously been in effect, given COVID not only in India but also globally as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, but are people taking advantage of it? Were people wanting this, or was it just decided from here and from the ambassador or whoever the charge is that this would be a good idea? I mean, is there a rush to the exits?

MR PRICE: I don’t have the numbers. I’m not sure we’d be able to provide them, regardless, given —

QUESTION: I don’t want your numbers. I just want to know if people are taking advantage of this.

MR PRICE: Well, I think it speaks to the fact that we put the safety and health of our employees and their families, in this case – we prioritize that, and so that is why the department thought it prudent to give them the option to depart the country if they so wished.

 

This is a follow-up post to @StateDept Mum on US Mission India’s Covid Outbreak: Four FSNs Dead (Not Two), 100+ Positive Cases, What Else?
We’ve learned that four locally employed staff have died at US Mission India due to COVID, and not two as previously reported. One FSN died in November, and three have died during the current wave. We understand that there’s “a ton of infections” at US Mission India. While most of those ill are locally employed staff, there are some U.S. direct hire Americans who are also sick. There is speculation that most of the infection occurred before the vaccine became available at posts. We understand that Mission India has now gone back to Phase 1, mostly conducting work via telework. 
Late on April 27, we also learned that family members of U.S. Government employees  were approved for authorized departure, an order that allows for their voluntary evacuation from post. There was no official announcement of the order on April 27. 
Previously, on April 21, 2021, the State Department issued a “Level 4-Do Not Travel” advisory for India due to COVID-19, crime, and terrorism.
On April 23, US Mission India issued an alert that Flights Departing India Are Available:

 Flights to U.S. cities remain open.  However, those originating from India to Canada, the UK, UAE, and South East Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong) have been suspended.  United Airlines temporarily cancelled their flights on April 23 from Delhi to Chicago, Newark, and San Francisco due to technical difficulties.  United is working to restore service as quickly as possible.  Travelers should check with the airline for scheduling updates.  United Airlines’ codeshare flights on Lufthansa and United’s flights from Mumbai have not been impacted.  Delta’s codeshare flights from India on Air France and KLM also remain operational.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice and the Department of State has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory advising against all travel to India.

Post has issued three health alerts since April 28:
Late on April 28, the State Department issued an updated Level 4-Do Not Travel advisory for India advising Americans “not travel to India due to COVID-19” and to “exercise increased caution due to crime and terrorism.” It also announced  that the Department “on April 28, 2021 … approved the voluntary departure of family members of U.S. government employees.” It advised that “U.S. citizens who wish to depart India should take advantage of available commercial transportation options. “
The SCA bureau is currently headed by Acting A/S Dean Thompson while the nominee for assistant secretary Ambassador Donald Lu awaits confirmation.
No nominee has been announced for U.S. Mission India as of this writing.  US Mission India is currently under the leadership of Chargé D’Affaires Donald L. Heflin with Brian Heath as Acting Deputy Chief of Mission. The constituent posts are headed by the following career diplomats:

 

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U.S. Senate Confirms Former @USUN Amb. Samantha Power as 19th @USAID Administrator

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On April 28, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power as the 19th USAID Administrator. She succeeds Mark Green who served as USAID Administrator under the Trump Administration from August 7, 2017 – April 10, 2020.
Excerpt below from her prepared testimony at her confirmation hearing:

“If confirmed, I will work to strengthen the institution of USAID and invest in the capabilities of the Agency’s dedicated 10,000 foreign service officers, civil servants, locally-employed staff, contractors, and other personnel. This means seeking out and amplifying their insights, learning about specific local needs, and adapting our programs. It means urgently addressing the issues relating to diversity, equity, inclusion, and advancement within USAID’s workforce. And it means emphasizing what President Biden himself has stressed: Development is critical to America’s ability to tackle the toughest problems of our time—economic, humanitarian and geopolitical. 

In consultation with you and others in Congress, I will aim to ensure that USAID enhances its longstanding leadership in food security, education, women’s empowerment, and global health, while also addressing four interconnected and gargantuan challenges confronting the world at this moment:

● The COVID-19 pandemic: With decades of development gains shattered by COVID, imperiling progress on everything from food security to gender equality and access to education, USAID’s support to partners will be vital for recovery, including by building more robust and durable health infrastructure for the future.

● Climate Change: With the surge in droughts, storms, food shortages, and climate-associated humanitarian emergencies, USAID can help countries become more resilient, while supporting their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

● Conflict and state collapse: With more conflicts occurring today than at any point since the end of the Cold War, USAID assistance will continue to mitigate suffering, while working with US diplomats and our international partners to address the root causes of such crises.

● Democratic backsliding: With freedom declining around the world for the fifteenth year in a row, USAID’s democracy, rights, anti-corruption, and governance programming must nimbly support democratic and civil society actors as they push back against creeping authoritarianism and seek to build lasting democratic institutions.

In tackling these and other challenges, I want to assure the Committee that I will work every day to expand burden-sharing in the international system. At the United Nations, working with my administration colleagues, I was able to help secure major commitments from other countries to care for refugees, respond to the Ebola epidemic, strengthen peacekeeping, and adopt the Sustainable Development Goals. US investments are catalysts that can be used to mobilize governments, international organizations, foundations, and businesses to help countries achieve their own development goals.

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Three Leaders, Two Chairs, and One #Sofagate

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

 

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US Embassy Kabul Now on Ordered Departure for a “Relatively Small Number” of USG Employees

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

On April 27, US Embassy Kabul issued a Security Alert informing U.S. citizens in Afghanistan that the State Department has ordered the departure of USG employees from the capital city:

On April 27, 2021, the Department of State ordered the departure from U.S. Embassy Kabul of U.S. government employees whose functions can be performed elsewhere due to increasing violence and threat reports in Kabul. The Consular Section in U.S. Embassy Kabul will remain open for limited consular services to U.S. citizens and for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa processing.

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that the Travel Advisory for Afghanistan remains Level 4-Do Not Travel due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, armed conflict, and COVID-19. Commercial flight options from Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) remain available and the U.S. Embassy strongly suggests that U.S. citizens make plans to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited. 

The State Department has also issued a Level4: Do Not Travel advisory for Afghanistan due to COVID-19, crime, terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict. U.S. citizens wishing to depart Afghanistan are urged to “leave as soon as possible on available commercial flights.”
CDA Ross Wilson tweeted that the mandatory evacuation affects a “relatively small number of employees” at post. We’d like to know how many employees are actually affected by this evacuation order.

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@StateDept Mum on US Mission India’s Covid Outbreak: Four FSNs Dead (Not Two), 100+ Positive Cases, What Else? (Updated)

 

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

Update 4/27/21 4:11 PST:  We’ve learned that four FSNs have died at US Mission India due to COVID. One died in November, and three have died in the current second wave. We understand that there’s “a ton of infections” at US Mission India. While most of those ill are locally employed staff, there are some U.S. direct hire Americans who are also sick. There is speculation that most of the infection occurred before the vaccine shots became available. The Mission has now gone back to Phase 1 mostly conducting telework.  We understand that family members are now on authorized departure but we have not seen the official announcement yet. 
CNN is reporting that a COVID outbreak at US Mission India has resulted in the death of two locally employed staffers, and over 100 positive cases “in recent weeks.” The report did not indicate which posts the outbreak occurred.
During the Daily Press Briefing of April 26, one of the reporters asked about the outbreak, and here is the official non-answer:
QUESTION: Can you speak to reports of a outbreak among U.S. diplomatic staff in India, say how many are affected, and if perhaps, considering that, the U.S. might be looking at authorized departure?
MR PRICE: So I’m not in the position to confirm any cases within our staff. Obviously, privacy considerations limit what we can say. But as I have mentioned during the course of this briefing alone, India is enduring a deeply concerning outbreak, and the entire country has been affected. We obviously do have a large diplomatic presence within India. It is tantamount to the deep engagement and partnership we have with India. But I’m not in a position to speak to any cases within our staff or embassy community.
During the COVID outbreak in January at U.S. Forces Korea, USFK reported:
“19 new infections at Yongsan between Jan. 5 and Thursday. It provided no further information about the five late Thursday. Of the remaining 14, four are Defense Department employees, six are contractors, two are spouses, one is a dependent and one is a South Korean taxi driver.”
Unlike DOD, the State Department almost always hide behind “privacy considerations” when asked to account for the welfare of its employees overseas. We can understand if Department officials do not want to talk about a potential authorized departure order but note that the other question asked was for the number of employees affected by the COVD outbreak at US Mission India. The reporter was not asking for identifying information; the question was not an invasion of  an infected employee’s privacy. We want to know how many employees and family members have been affected by the pandemic at US Mission India and wehat is State doing about it. If as reported, medical facilities have been running out of oxygen and ICU beds, are there medevac flights?

OPM: Under what circumstances should an agency communicate to its employees that there is a confirmed case among one or more of its employees (without identifying the person/specific office)? View

The most recent publicly available information on staffing is from 2018. It indicates that the U.S. diplomatic mission in India which consists of the embassy in New Delhi and consulates general in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata, employed more than 2,500 U.S. and foreign nationals. As with other diplomatic posts, several agencies are represented at the mission, including the U.S. Commercial Service, the Foreign Agriculture Service, and elements of the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Treasury, and Health and Human Services.
The 2018 report also indicates that almost 40 percent of mission staff worked at the four constituent posts, and the Consuls General were in charge of staffs ranging from 183 in Kolkata to 391 in Mumbai. That means Embassy Delhi has about 60% of the total staff or around 1,500 U.S. and foreign nationals. These numbers do not include family members and members of household at Mission India.  However, we estimate that the number of family members/MOH at post could not be over 533. The Family Liaison Office’s data from Fall 2020 indicates that there are 533 family members “at post” for the South and Central Asian Affairs bureau which covers India plus 12 other countries.

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Amb. Donald Lu to be Asst Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs (State/SCA)

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

On April 23, 2021 President Biden announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Donald Lu  to be the next Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. The WH released the following brief bio:

Donald Lu, Nominee for Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Department of State

Donald Lu, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, has been U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic since 2018. Previously, Lu was U.S. Ambassador to Albania. He has also served as Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy New Delhi, India, Deputy Chief of Mission and the Chargé d’affaires, U.S. Embassy Baku, Azerbaijan and Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic. Earlier, Lu was the Deputy Director, Office of Central Asian and South Caucasus Affairs, for the Department of State and, before that, the Special Assistant to the Ambassador for the Newly Independent States. He also held postings in India, Georgia, and Pakistan. Lu earned M.A. and B.A. degrees from Princeton University. He is the recipient of the Rockwell Anthony Schnabel Award for advancing U.S.-European Union relations. Ambassador Lu speaks and reads Albanian, Russian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, West African Krio, Hindi and Urdu.

According to history.state.gov, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1992 and 1993 (P.L. 102-138; 105 Stat. 658) authorized the appointment of an Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs on October 28, 1991. Previous appointees to this position are as follows:
SES William Todd served as Acting A/S for SCA in 2017. On January 3, 2019, Trump nominated Robert Williams, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official for the SCA bureau. The nomination was withdrawn by the president on April 11, 2019.
SFSO Alice G. Wells served as Acting A/S from 2017-June 2020. After Ambassador Wells’ departure, DAS Thomas L. Vajda served as the South and Central Asian Bureau’s “senior bureau official on an interim basis.” SFSO Dean Thompson has been Acting A/S since January 20, 2021.
If confirmed, Ambassador Lu would be the first Senate-confirmed assistant secretary to lead the bureau since 2017.  Also with Ambassador Lu’s nomination, Foggy Bottom now has  one non-career appointee (EUR), one retired FS (NEA), and five active career Foreign Service officers  (WHA, EAP, AF, IO, SCA) expected to lead the State Department’s geographic bureaus.

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Marcela Escobari to be USAID’s Asst Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean

Once a year, we ask for your support to keep this blog and your dedicated blogger going. So here we are on Week #7 of our eight-week annual fundraising. Our previous funding ran out in August 2020. We recognize that blogging life has no certainty, and this year is no exception.  If you care what we do here, please see GFM: https://gofund.me/32671a27.  We could use your help. Grazie!  Merci! Gracias!

 

On April 12,  President Biden announced his intent to nominate Marcela Escobari to be USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean. The WH released the following bio:

Marcela Escobari, Nominee for Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, USAID

For over two decades, the Hon. Marcela Escobari led organizations that help regions chart a path towards prosperity. She served in the Obama-Biden Administration as Assistant Administrator of USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean. During her time there, Escobari reinforced U.S. support for Peace Colombia, established a long-term development plan for Haiti, and prepared a proactive strategy to confront the humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela. In response to Congress’ doubling of funding to Central America, she led changes in strategy, organization and execution to combat root causes of poverty and migration in the region.

Prior to serving in government, Escobari was Executive Director at the Center for International Development at Harvard University. During her tenure, the Center launched projects in 17 countries across five continents focused on unlocking constraints to economic growth. Most recently, as a senior fellow at Brookings, she created the Workforce of the Future initiative and applied international economic development models to map the industrial path of American cities and identify policies to help workers prosper in the face of evolving labor markets. She worked with US local leaders, companies and policy makers, including in Idaho and Texas, to strengthen paths to the middle class.

Her career has spanned the private sector, government and academia, with a common thread of producing growth that is inclusive and sustainable.  She began her career as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan and worked across the globe on export competitiveness projects as a strategy consultant.  The World Economic Forum named her a Young Global Leader in 2013. She co-authored the book “In the River They Swim: Essays from around the World on Enterprise Solutions to Poverty,” holds a B.A. in economics from Swarthmore College and an M.A. in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

 

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