U.S.-Turkey Announce Reciprocal Resumption of Visa Services, Then Turkey Throws U.S. Accusation

Posted: 1:39 am ET
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U.S. Orders Russia to Close Its Consulate General in San Francisco, Two Annexes By Sept. 2

Posted: 11:17 am ET
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On August 31, the State Department announced that it is requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco and two annexes in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Closures need to be done by Saturday, September 2.

The United States has fully implemented the decision by the Government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia. We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries.

In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City. These closures will need to be accomplished by September 2.

With this action both countries will remain with three consulates each. While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian Government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship.

The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern. The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.

A senior official confirmed to BuzzFeed that that the U.S. presence  is down to 455 in Russia, but apparently would not give a breakdown of who was let go.

A couple weeks ago, the New York Daily News citing Kommersant reported that Russia may be forced to close one of four consulates in the U.S. as part of an ongoing diplomatic tit-for-tat.  Russia has consulates general in New York, Houston, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Three days ago, Russia MFA rep Maria Maria Zakharova reportedly said on television that the reduction of personnel at U.S. Mission Russia was not “absolutely not a Russian demand”, that it was an offer, a suggestion.

The July 27 statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry said that it “reserves the right to resort to other measures affecting US’ interests on a basis of reciprocity.” In that same statement, it uses the word “suggest” but also “must.” There is no way to interpret that official statement as merely a suggestion for the U.S. Government

– Therefore, we suggest that our American counterparts bring the number of diplomatic and technical staff at the US Embassy in Moscow, the consulates general in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, into strict correspondence with the number of Russian diplomats and technical staff currently working in the United States, until September 1, 2017. This means that the total number of American diplomatic and consular office employees in the Russian Federation must be reduced to 455 people. In the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.

– Starting August 1, the use of all the storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow and the country house in Serebryany Bor will be suspended from use by the US Embassy.

The full statement is here.

Similarly, the Russian readout of the July 28 conversation between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary Tillerson said that “Sergey Lavrov emphasised that the decision to even out the number of employees in US and Russian diplomatic missions and to suspend the use of two properties by the US Embassy is the result of a series of hostile steps by Washington.”

 

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U.S. Mission Russia to Suspend Nonimmigrant Visa Operations Starting August 23

Posted: 2:06 am ET
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On August 21, U.S. Mission Russia announced that it is suspending nonimmigrant visa operations across Russia effective Wednesday, August 23.

As a result of the Russian government’s personnel cap imposed on the U.S. Mission, all nonimmigrant visa (NIV) operations across Russia will be suspended beginning August 23, 2017.  Visa operations will resume on a greatly reduced scale.  Beginning September 1, nonimmigrant visa interviews will be conducted only at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.  NIV interviews at the U.S. Consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok are suspended until further notice.  As of 0900 Moscow time Monday, August 21, the U.S. Mission will begin canceling current nonimmigrant visa appointments countrywide.  The NIV applicants who have their interviews canceled should call the number below to reschedule their interview at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for a later date.  NIV applicants originally scheduled for an interview at the U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok should call the number below if they wish to reschedule their interviews at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The staffing changes will also affect the scheduling of some immigrant visa applicants.  Affected applicants will be contacted if there is a change as to the time and date of their interview.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow and three consulates will continue to provide emergency and routine services to American citizens, although hours may change.  (For American Citizen Services hours, please check the U.S. Mission to Russia website at https://ru.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/acs-hours.)

US Mission Russia released a Fact Sheet also noting that the cancellation of visa interviews prior to September 1 is due to “planning for departures and staff reductions” that has already begun “in order to meet the Russian government’s September 1 deadline for the reduction of personnel.” It further notes that operation at reduced capacity will continue as long as its mission staffing levels are reduced.

As of August 21, the appointment visa wait times for U.S. Mission Russia for visitor visas are as follows: Moscow (85 calendar days), St. Pete (44 days), Vladivostok (2 days) and Yekaterinburg (59 days). When visa interviews resume at the US Embassy in Moscow on September 1, all visa interviews at the three constituents posts will remain suspended.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (via TASS) said that “the US authors of these decisions have plotted another attempt at stirring up resentment among Russian citizens regarding decisions by the Russian authorities.”

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Putin Says 755 U.S. Diplomats Must Leave, Let’s Break Down the Numbers

Posted: 12:20 pm PT
Updated 5:22 pm PT with AP news
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Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued the following statement:

Despite Washington’s constant outbursts, we have adhered to responsible and reserved behaviour and have not responded to express provocations until now. However, the latest events confirm that certain circles in the US are fixated on Russophobia and open confrontation with our country.

– Therefore, we suggest our American counterparts bringing the number of diplomatic and technical staff at the US Embassy in Moscow, the consulates general in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, into strict correspondence with the number of Russian diplomats and technical staff currently working in the United States, until September 1, 2017. This means that the total number of American diplomatic and consular office employees in the Russian Federation must be reduced to 455 people. In the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.

– Starting August 1, the use of all the storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow and the country house in Serebryany Bor will be suspended from use by the US Embassy.

Russia reserves the right to resort to other measures affecting US’ interests on a basis of reciprocity.

Today, according to AFP, President Putin announced that 755 diplomats must leave Russia. Also a report here by Reuters. Let’s look at the numbers.

In 2007, the US Mission in Russia had a total staff of 1,878 (includes over 1300 local employees).

In October 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ceased operations at the insistence of the Russian Government. USAID Russia had 99 employees including over 80 employees affected by the closure.

In 2013, US Mission Russia (embassy and consulates general) employed 1,279 staff. This included 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed (LE) staff positions from 35 U.S. Government agencies. The State Department typically do not have huge swings in staffing at overseas posts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan excepted), so these are probably close to the current numbers. We don’t have a count on the accompanying family members who are also on diplomatic visas.

In addition to the embassy, US Mission Russia includes consulates general in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok. (When did we close the consular agency in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk?)

The only way the reported numbers make sense is if President Putin is actually talking about the entire mission staff and not just American diplomats. If we go by the 2013 numbers of 1,279 total staff, and only 455 can remain per MFA Russia announcement, that leaves us with 824. That’s close to the 755 number attributed to Putin (69 difference can be attributed to changes in staffing patterns between 2013-2017). But that means, a reduction of all staff, including the local employees.

The July 28 statement from the Russian MFA also says that in “the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.”

In 1986, the then Soviet Union barred all Soviet employes from working for the U.S. Embassy or U.S. diplomats, in response to the expulsion from the United States of 55 Soviet diplomats.  We’re not there yet, but this can always get worse.

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Tit For Tat For Tit: Russia expels two US diplomats over unprovoked attack at US Embassy Moscow

Posted: 3:12 am ET
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On June 6, a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)  guard reportedly attacked one of our accredited diplomats posted in Moscow. About three weeks later, somebody told the Washington Post about the attack.

This previously unreported attack occurred just steps from the entrance to the U.S. Embassy complex, which is located in the Presnensky District in Moscow’s city center. After being tackled by the FSB guard, the diplomat suffered a broken shoulder, among other injuries. He was eventually able to enter the embassy and was then flown out of Russia to receive urgent medical attention, administration officials confirmed to me. He remains outside of Russia.

RFE/RL reported the response from Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on June 30  — that the guard attempted to stop the man to check his identity, but the man struck the guard in the face with his elbow before running into the embassy. “In the tussle that followed, the unknown man shoved away the guard employee and disappeared into the embassy,” she said.

Here’s TASS with a quote from the Russian deputy foreign minister about the incident:

“A video of that incident was broadcasted on July 7 by the NTV channel and speaks for itself – in the middle of the night some man wearing a hat pulled on his eyes, though it is summer, rushes from a taxi to the embassy entrance without any attempts to present a pass,” the Russian deputy foreign minister said. “Then, as the police on guard in order to prevent any threat for the diplomatic mission from the stranger, hurries to the person, the man gives him a punch by elbow into the face, thus actually committing a crime.”

Well, now, here’s the video, which was released earlier this week by Russian state-owned NTV.

Can we please file the deputy under the “Baghdad Bob” folder?

In any case, on July 7, WaPo reported that Congress is now investigating the attack on the U.S. diplomat in Moscow.

On Friday, July 8, State Department spox, John Kirby told reporters for the first time that Russian diplomats were expelled from the US on June 17 in response to the attack. “We are extremely troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past couple years,” Kirby said.

Gotcha. One month, two days.

On July 9, Russia’s Sputnik News confirmed from the Russian Foreign Ministry that “Washington urged Russian diplomats to leave the US, while not voicing any complaints concerning their activity.”

Also on July 9, TASS reported that “two CIA officials working for U.S. Embassy were declared persona non grata.”  Apparently, Moscow has also warned Washington that “further escalation of bilateral relations will not remain unanswered.”

Here’s something to read via The American Interest:

The Obama Administration really wanted to keep this incident quiet. Whether due to wishful thinking or for reasons knowable only to those on the inside, the White House seems to think it can make progress with Russia on both the Ukraine and Syria portfolios. The harassment of State Department personnel in Moscow by security personnel was not exactly a new phenomenon, even though it had increased in intensity since Russia annexed Crimea, fought a covert war in Donbas, and had sanctions imposed on it. The White House probably saw this latest assault, egregious though it was, as fitting into a well-established pattern (one at odds with whatever hopeful signs it thought it was getting directly from the Kremlin).The Administration knew the video of the beating looked bad and could inflame U.S. domestic opinion if it leaked. But to its credit, it did not completely turn the other cheek either. Rather, it stuck to the informal, accepted procedure of quietly PNGing two Russian spies with diplomatic cover and gave zero notice to the press. Whatever the original reason for the assault, the thinking must have gone, it’s important that it not get in the way of improving relations with the Kremlin.

Read more: Kremlin Paranoia Leads to Escalation in Spy War and Why Russia Published Footage of an FSB Agent Beating an American in Moscow.

Below via the DPB with the official spox on July 8:

QUESTION: Okay. On the incident outside the Russian embassy, there’s been more comments out of Moscow or wherever. Seems like they’re bent on humiliating you over this incident. Do you have a response?

MR KIRBY: So I’ve been clear from the podium that we would prefer to deal with this matter in private government-to-government channels. However, because, as you noted, the Russian Government continues to make allegations about this incident, I am now compelled to set the record straight. On the 6th of June, an accredited U.S. diplomat, who identified himself in accordance with embassy protocols, entering the American embassy compound was attacked by a Russian policeman. The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee. The Russian claim the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue.

In addition to the attack on the 6th of June, Russian security services have intensified their harassment against U.S. personnel in an effort to disrupt our diplomatic and consular operations. We’ve privately urged the Russian Government to stop the harassment of American personnel in Russia, and as I said before, the safety and well-being of our diplomatic and consular personnel abroad and their accompanying family members are things we take very, very seriously.

QUESTION: All right. On the individual, the diplomat, there were some reports that he sustained injuries, including maybe a broken arm. Is that true, and has he since left the country, been PNGed, or anything like that?

MR KIRBY: Privacy considerations restrict me from speaking about health, and, as a standard practice, I’m not going to comment on the status of any of our employees serving overseas.

QUESTION: In Congress there’s calls for an investigation. Do you support those? Will you undertake an investigation?

MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any investigation that we are going to undertake. If that changes or something, I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And then what does this say about the broader U.S.-Russian relationship? Is it getting – if you can’t even operate in normal manner in the country, is it getting to a level – a worse level than it’s been in a very long time?

MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, I think it certainly speaks, as I said, of – to the kinds of harassment over the last couple of years – I mean, this is a very graphic example and a very violent one. But it comes on the heels of two years of increasing diplomatic harassment by Russian authorities that is also unprovoked and unnecessary. And as I said I think a week or so ago, Russian claims that they’re getting harassed here are simply without foundation. So you want to have a conversation about in-kind treatment, it’s time for Russia to treat our diplomats with – in the same manner in which they’re treated here when they come to the United States.

And as for the broader relationship, the – our relationship with Russia is complicated, and we certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything. There are areas where we have in the past and I think we’ll continue to seek cooperation with them, such as on Syria and the political process there. There are obviously still areas where there’s tension; Ukraine and Minsk implementation is one of them, and certainly this. There’s no need for this when there’s so many more important things for us to be working on with Russia and so much real, meaningful geopolitical progress that could be had. There’s no place for this kind of treatment and there’s no reason for it.

QUESTION: Are you prepared to make an official complaint about a Vienna Convention violation?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything on that to say today.

QUESTION: And then lastly, are – do you have – are you considering any countermeasures against Russia in terms of diplomatic presence in the United States, whether it’s expelling embassies, limiting movement, or otherwise responding to this incident?

MR KIRBY: So a couple of things on there. I’d say in – certainly in a sign of how seriously we take it, as I said earlier, the Secretary raised it directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov on the very day that it occurred.

(Ringtone plays.)

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR KIRBY: That’s okay.

We’re well aware that such efforts against U.S. personnel are not always sanctioned by all elements of the Russian Government. So we’re going to look to senior Russian officials with whom we engage to reign in those elements seeking to impede our diplomatic and consular activities in – I’m sorry – in Russia and our bilateral relationship. And again, this has been raised at the very highest levels – this particular incident – and I think you’ll continue to see us do that.

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US Embassy Caracas: Chargé Lee McClenny Gets the Spotlight, Plus Two Weeks to Downsize

Posted: 17:03 EST
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Yesterday, we blogged about some weekend developments in Venezuela. See Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis! Today, our man in Caracas, Lee McClenny is on the spotlight. Wait, how many times was McClenny’s name misspelled as “Clenny” in Venezuelan government statements before today’s meeting?

 

Some better pix:

Here is his brief bio via Embassy Caracas:

Mr. McClenny is a career Foreign Service officer, rank of Minister-Counselor, who joined the U.S. diplomatic service in 1986.  He began service as Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas in July 2014.

Immediately prior to this assignment, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Prior to that, he was the Principal Officer in Montreal, Canada, and his previous overseas assignments include tours at the U.S. embassies in Manila, London, Guatemala City, Belgrade, and Ottawa.  He has also been assigned at the U.S. Department of State and on detail assignments at the National Security Council, in Washington, DC; at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, in London; and at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in Brussels.  Mr. McClenny is a recipient of the Presidential Meritorious Service Award as well as the Superior Honor Award and the Meritorious Honor Award.  He speaks Spanish, French, and some Serbo-Croat and Russian.

A native of San Francisco, California, Mr. McClenny enjoyed an itinerant childhood, growing up in several cities around the U.S. and abroad.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Washington, in Seattle, and is a graduate of the State Department’s Senior Seminar.  He is married to Katherine Latimer, of Montreal, Canada, and has an adult son and daughter, both of whom live in the U.S.  In their spare time, Mr. McClenny and Mrs. Latimer enjoy reading, cinema, scuba diving, active sports, and the outdoors.

U.S. Embassy Caracas is a 20% hardship and 42% COLA post. According to Diplomatic Security’s Crime and Safety 2014 report, the country is listed as the third most violent city in the world — up from sixth place in 2012 — by the Mexican non-governmental organization (NGO) Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal).

And then this:

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Hookay.  Are we also giving the Venezuelan government two weeks to downsize its staff in BostonChicagoHoustonMiamiNew YorkNueva OrleansSan Francisco, and of course, Washington, D.C.?