@StateDept “continuing to evaluate the situation regarding the embassy and the staffing” in #Moscow

 

Via Department Press Briefing – August 2, 2021
08/02/2021 06:22 PM EDT

QUESTION: I wonder if you could comment on the report that the Russian ambassador to the U.S. has said there’s 24 Russian diplomats who’ve been asked to leave the country by September 3rd after their visas expired. So why are they being asked to leave? Were any of these people acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status? And is this a retaliation against something Russia has done?

MR PRICE: Well, let me first address Ambassador Antonov’s remarks. I understand he made these remarks during a media interview. But his characterization of the situation is not accurate; it’s incorrect. The three-year limit on visa validity for Russians, it’s nothing new. When visas expire, as you might expect, these individuals are expected to leave the country or apply for an extension. That is what is at play here.

But since you did raise the – this issue, let me take an opportunity to speak to the broader issue, and that is a statement that you all saw from us – from Secretary Blinken – on Friday. And we issued this statement in response to what the Russian Government has mandated and what took effect yesterday, and that’s namely that the prohibition on the United States from retaining, hiring, or contracting Russian or third-country staff except for our guard force, which very lamentably has forced us to let go of hundreds of staff members across Russia, across embassy and the mission community there. It is unfortunate because these measures have a negative impact on our – on the U.S. mission to Russia’s operation, potentially on the safety and security of our personnel, as well as our ability to engage in diplomacy with the Russian Government.

I will say that we reserve the right to take appropriate response measures to Russia’s actions. The Russian Government has also indicated that it will impose similar measures on the embassies of some other – some of our partners and allies. We also strongly object to this and will stand in solidarity with the other countries, the other members of the diplomatic community there who are affected by this.

The point we’ve made before is that our actions on March 2nd and April 15th, the measures we put into place to hold the Russian Government accountable for its range of threats to our interests and to our people – those were a response. We did not escalate; we did not seek an escalation. Those were a response to the Russian Government’s harmful actions, and we continue to believe that at times like these, we do need open channels of communication between our governments, including through our respective embassies. So we’re continuing to evaluate the situation and will update you as we have new developments.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Could we pursue that a bit? The ambassador – another thing that he said was that three-year validity is unique or almost unique to Russia. Is that accurate as far as you see?

MR PRICE: So the Office of Foreign Missions did issue some guidance recently. What we have said – and we can get you more details if we’re able to share on how this applies to Russia – but we have – we announced last week that the department will limit the assignment duration of most newly arriving members of foreign, diplomatic, or consular missions in the United States to a maximum of five consecutive years. Now, of course, that doesn’t apply to all missions, but the limitation on duration does help us to balance the lengths of tours for bilateral diplomats assigned to foreign missions in the United States and for U.S. diplomats’ assignments overseas.

QUESTION: Five years. Is that not the —

MR PRICE: The maximum is five years across the board.

QUESTION: So when he’s talking about three years, is that accurate? I mean, is that something that’s the case with Russians?

MR PRICE: I couldn’t comment as to whether that is unique to Russian diplomats or not.

QUESTION: Well, can they apply for renewals?

MR PRICE: We’ll see if we can get you more information on that.

QUESTION: Well, because, I mean, you said that after the three years for the Russians, when they either have to leave or they —

MR PRICE: Apply for an extension.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can they get an extension? Or you say no —

MR PRICE: They can apply for an extension. They can apply for an extension, and just as —

QUESTION: But have – and have you – but have you said that we will not accept any extension requests?

MR PRICE: What we’ve said is that they can apply for an extension. As in all cases, applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: All right. But this – but this – but you’re saying in response to his question is that this is not like a retaliatory move for the broader issues or the —

MR PRICE: This is not – the characterization that he put forward is not accurate.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: He also said that you make it impossible for them to get visa again to come back. He said they likely will not come back because you guys make it impossible for them to get visa renewal. Is that – do you dispute what he’s saying?

MR PRICE: What we have consistently said is that we believe that in a relationship like this that, at least at the present, is characterized by disagreement, by tension, by friction, and all of that is probably putting it lightly, that we need more communication rather than less. We think it is in our interest. We tend to think it’s in the interest of our two countries, that we are able to communicate effectively and openly, and we can do that through our embassies, but our embassies need to be adequately staffed. The measures that the Russian Federation put in place on Sunday has, as we said before, forced us to let go of hundreds of our employees across our facilities in Russia. That, in turn, has a ripple effect on our ability, on the ability of our diplomats in Russia to do their jobs. We think that is quite unfortunate.

Yes.

[…]

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Russia for one second?

MR PRICE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So you said that the U.S. is continuing to evaluate the situation regarding the embassy and the staffing. What do you mean by that? Do you mean the U.S. is questioning if they should keep open this embassy in Moscow? Do you mean you’re looking at how to respond both of those things? Can you just be a little more explicit?

MR PRICE: Well, so of course, our embassy in Moscow does remain open. When it comes to our other facilities, operations remain suspended at the U.S. consulate general in Vladivostok. All public-facing services were halted earlier this year at our consulate general in Yekaterinburg. The CG there no longer provides consular services, including U.S. citizen services such as passport issuance, notarial services, and consular reports of birth abroad.

What we have voiced strong objection to, including from the Secretary that you saw on Friday, was the idea that because of the prohibition on the use of Russian or third country staff, that we would have to diminish some of the services and some of the operations that are – that take place at our embassy in Moscow. What I was referring to there – and obviously, we regret this decision that the Russian Federation has taken. Of course, we are going to continue to evaluate what might be appropriate – what may be an appropriate response for us to take going forward.

Related posts:

 

US Mission Russia Terminates Local Employees/Contractors Due to Moscow’s Prohibition

 

The US Mission Russia staffing issue that has been brewing for a while has finally erupted to a predictable conclusion. Previously, in late April we reported that there was supposed to be a Mass Termination of Local Staff, and Severe Reduction in Consular Services Effective May 12. That did not happen when Russia informed the US Embassy in Moscow of its intent to postpone its prohibition of the employment of foreign nationals until mid-July.  Presumably, the two sides continued talking but the issue did not get resolved.
On Friday, July 30, Secretary Blinken released the following statement:

The United States is immensely grateful for the tireless dedication and commitment of our locally employed staff and contractors at U.S. Mission Russia. We thank them for their contributions to the overall operations and their work to improve relations between our two countries. Their dedication, expertise and friendship have been a mainstay of Mission Russia for decades.

Starting in August, the Russian government is prohibiting the United States from retaining, hiring, or contracting Russian or third-country staff, except our guard force. We are deeply saddened that this action will force us to let go of 182 local employees and dozens of contractors at our diplomatic facilities in Moscow, Vladivostok, and Yekaterinburg.

These unfortunate measures will severely impact the U.S. 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. 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.

We value our deep connection to the Russian people. Our people-to-people relationships are the bedrock of our bilateral relations.

As of April 1, 2021, Consulate General in Yekaterinburg stopped visa and American Citizen services. In March 2020, the U.S. Consulate General Vladivostok suspended operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Post did not resume its operations in due to critically low staffing of the United States Mission to Russia. It looks like following that suspension of services, U.S. citizens in the Russian Far East were still able to obtain services from the U.S. Consular Agency in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Visa services by then were provided solely by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow due to insufficient staffing. It is likely that this consular agency will also shut down.
We once recalled that in 1986, the then Soviet Union barred all Soviet employees from working for the U.S. Embassy or U.S. diplomats, in response to the expulsion from the United States of 55 Soviet diplomats. At that time WaPo noted that “225 diplomats and their families had to adjust quickly to the latest development in the embassy wars.”

Related posts:

 

 

@StateDept Releases Tijuana Accountability Review Board (ARB) Fact Sheet

 

On July 26, the State Department released a Tijuana Accountability Review Board Fact Sheet. A notice dated March 9, 2021 posted on regulations.gov announced the convening of ARB-Tijuana (see Convening of an Accountability Review Board to Investigate the Murder of an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Locally Employed Staff member in Tijuana, Mexico).

Related posts:

As best we could tell, the Tijuana ARB report has not been released publicly.  Below via the State Department Fact Sheet:

On January 4, 2021, former Secretary of State Pompeo convened an independent Accountability Review Board (ARB) to review the facts and circumstance surrounding the murder of Mr. Edgar Flores Santos, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS) Locally Employed (LE) Staff member in Tijuana, Mexico that occurred on September 30, 2020.  The body was discovered on October 1, 2020. The Tijuana ARB, as well as local and American law enforcement officials, concluded this unfortunate incident was a case of Mr. Flores being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

The ARB’s mandate was to determine the extent to which the incident was security related; whether security systems and procedures were adequate; whether those systems and procedures were properly implemented; the impact of intelligence and information availability; and other factors and circumstances which may be relevant to appropriate security management of U.S. missions abroad.

The ARB first met on February 23, 2021.  Former Ambassador George M. Staples served as Chair of the Board.  Board members included Ambassador Janice Jacobs, former USAID Mission Director Dirk Dijkerman, former Diplomatic Security Service Special Agents John Eustace, and Kimber Davidson.  On April 23, 2021, the Board submitted a report of its findings and recommendations to Secretary of State Blinken.  The Department of State appreciates the judgment and insight contained in the report and is grateful for the service of the Board.  Pursuant to law, the Secretary submitted a report to Congress on July 22, 2020, outlining the ARB’s recommendations and actions taken in response.

The United States Department of State, the USDA APHIS operations, and many other U.S. government agencies have a broad presence and role in Mexico.  The United States is Mexico’s largest agricultural trading partner and the growing agricultural ties between the United States and Mexico have created a vital role for the USDA’s APHIS in ensuring that existing trade between the two economies flows smoothly.  In particular, APHIS provides critical safeguarding of U.S. agriculture, helping to prevent the spread of animal and plant pests and diseases. 

Advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives inherently involves diverse types of risk, and the Department recognizes that taking considered risks is often essential to achieving U.S. government objectives abroad.  Working in dangerous locations such as Mexico’s northern border area is critical to maintaining the safety, security, prosperity, and welfare of Americans.  The work accomplished by Mr. Flores and his USDA APHIS colleagues is vital to the agricultural security of the United States; the Department of State is grateful for their service.   

In the Tijuana operating environment, the Board found that the Department’s security systems and procedures were overall adequate and properly implemented, though the Board identified a few challenges in communication and information sharing that were immediately rectified following this incident.  Moreover, the Board did not find any U.S. government employee engaged in misconduct or perform unsatisfactorily in a way that contributed to this incident. 

The ARB issued 11 recommendations that focus on security systems and procedures and security management.

Security Systems and Procedures:  The ARB found that by all accounts, Mexican law enforcement and U.S. law enforcement agencies at the embassy responded quickly to the incident and shared available information and assisted the Regional Security Officer (RSO) in response to this incident.  However, the Board recommended that APHIS and the RSO take steps to ensure closer monitoring of security-related incidents, information sharing and integration of that intelligence into APHIS’s operational decisions.  The Department of State in coordination with USDA/APHIS will review policies and procedures to strengthen the security of APHIS personnel overseas.  U.S. Embassy Mexico City and all posts with an APHIS presence in their district will engage in robust publicity efforts to raise public awareness about what APHIS does, how it works, and how the work benefits Mexico.

Security Management:  The Board also made several recommendations that USDA and State will take to improve the safety of field inspectors related to their roles and responsibilities; program requirements considering threats and vulnerabilities; and enrolling USDA/APHIS locally employed staff in the Department of State’s worldwide standardized emergency notification system.

 

 

 

 

Russian Govt to Postpone Prohibition of US Mission Russia’s Employment of Foreign Nationals

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A follow-up to our April 20 post: US Mission Russia: Mass Termination of Local Staff, Severe Reduction in Consular Services Effective May 12.
On May 14, the US Embassy in Moscow announced to US citizens in Russia that the host country has informed the US Mission of its intent to postpone its prohibition of the employment of foreign nationals at US Mission Russia. So for now through July 16, routine U.S. citizen services will temporarily resumed.

Temporary Resumption of Consular Services – The Russian government has informed U.S. Embassy Moscow of its intent to postpone the prohibition of U.S. Mission Russia’s employment of foreign nationals.  Consequently, through July 16, U.S. Embassy Moscow will temporarily resume routine U.S. citizen services, including passport services, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, and limited notarial services.  Please visit our website for instructions on scheduling an appointment.  We will also provide immigrant visa processing for priority and urgent cases.

Actions To Take:

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.

Be aware that 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.

In related news, Moscow Times reports that US Embassy Moscow spokesperson Rebecca Ross and nine other American diplomats have until May 21 to leave the country in line with Russia’s retaliation to the expulsion of 10 of its diplomats from the United States.

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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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Post in Search of a Mission: “Now, I found, that the world is round and of course, it rains everyday ….”

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1) If there are fewer than two dozen staff members. 
2) If they live in austere conditions even without COVID, but particularly during COVID they are limited to their homes and the embassy. Nothing else. 
3) If there are no flights servicing pouch needs coming to post. This means the staff cannot procure needed items with regularity, including food and medicine. 
4) If there are no relationships with the host government. This means the embassy remains open simply to support itself. 
5) If staff is top heavy with multiple FS-01 positions and few FS-02 and below officers. 
6) If staff lives together due to health concerns. 
7)  If there are no option to telework even amidst COVID. Security requirements preclude remote access. 
8) If a staff member gets COVID, they will likely put the entire embassy at risk. Flight clearance to get an OPMED evacuation flight is difficult to obtain from host nation and would likely necessitate evacuating all who had been exposed (thus shuttering the embassy) because of the OPMED cost, and the delayed timeline of clearance to land and cost of repeated flights. 
9) If local staff continue to be paid even though most never come to work, and have been forced to stay home since COVID. 
10) If COVID vaccination efforts will be hamstrung by the aforementioned issues with host nation further putting staff at risk. 

 

Now, I found that the world is round
And of course it rains everyday

Living tomorrow, where in the world will I be tomorrow?
How far am I able to see?
Or am I needed here?

Now, I found that the world is round
And of course it rains everyday

If I remember all of the things I have done
I’d remember all of the times I’ve gone wrong
Why do they keep me here?

Courtesy: Bee Gees – World (From the 1968 Album, Horizontal)


 

 

@StateDept Convenes Accountability Review Board to Investigate the Murder of Local Employee Edgar Flores Santos in Tijuana, Mexico

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In October last year, we blogged about Edgar Flores Santos, a local employee who worked on animal and plant inspection for the Department of Agriculture’s APHIS office at the US Consulate General in Tijuana. He was reported missing on September 30 and found dead in a field southeast of the city on October 2, 2020 (also see Mexico: US Consulate Tijuana Local Employee Edgar Flores Santos Found Dead in a Field).

On March 9, 2021, the State Department published a notice via regulations.gov on the convening of an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to investigate the murder of Edgar Flores Santos. Former Ambassador and former DGHR George Staples has been appointed as Chair of the Board for ARB-Tijuana:
Convening of an Accountability Review Board To Investigate the Murder of an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Locally Employed (LE) Staff Member in Tijuana, Mexico Pursuant to Section 301 of the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, as amended (22 U.S.C. 4831), the Department of State convened an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to review the October 2020 murder of an APHIS LE Staff member in Tijuana, Mexico. The ARB will examine the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident and submit its findings to the Secretary of State, together with any recommendations as appropriate. The Department has appointed George Staples, a retired U.S. ambassador, as Chair of the Board. The other Board members are retired U.S. Ambassador Janice Jacobs, Mr. Dirk Dijkerman, Mr. John Eustace, and Mr. Kimber Davidson. They bring to their deliberations distinguished backgrounds in government service.
The Board will submit its findings and recommendations to the Secretary of State. The Department will report to Congress on any recommendations made by the Board and actions taken with respect to those recommendations.
Anyone with information relevant to the Board’s examination of these incidents should contact the Board via email promptly at ARBTijuana2021@ state.gov.
Zachary A. Parker, Director, Office of Directives Management.

 


 

 

 

FSN Recognition Day: Gratefulness and Celebration, So Now They’ll Finally Get an Ombudsman?

 

US Mission Turkey: @ABDIstanbul Employee Mete Canturk Gets 5-Year Jail Term #WhatAreYouGonnaDo #StateDept

 

Reuters notes that Mete Canturk is the third U.S. consulate worker to be convicted in Turkey. Hamza Ulucay was sentenced to 4-1/2 years in prison on terrorism charges. Metin Topuz, a translator for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration at the consulate in Istanbul, was sentenced in June to nearly nine years in jail for aiding Gulen’s network.
See more here:

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US Embassy Kabul: As Many as 20 People Infected With COVID-19 (Via AP)