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.
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: 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.
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.
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