Russia Expels U.S. Diplomats, Closes Consulate General @USinStPete

Posted: 12:53 pm PT

 

On March 26, the United States expelled 60 Russian diplomats and closed a Russian Consulate in Seattle over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain (see U.S. and 20+ Countries Expel Russian Diplomats Over UK Nerve Agent Attack).

On March 29, in an expected tit for tat move, Russia announced the expulsion of 60 American diplomats and the closure of the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg. AP citing the Russian Foreign Ministry reports that “the U.S. diplomats, including 58 from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and two from the U.S. consulate in Yekaterinburg, must leave Russia by April 5. It added that the U.S. must leave the consulate in St. Petersburg no later than Saturday.”

If Russia is not expelling U.S. diplomats from St. Petersburg, but closing the consulate there, this could mean that diplomats assigned to St. Pete potentially could move to Moscow, but 60 diplomats (and family members) will still be sent home.  We figured this was coming, some realities of diplomatic life: pack up with as little as 48 hours notice, for those with kids, pull children out of school, find new schools, arrange for shipment of pets, leave your household effects, move into transitional housing for an undetermined duration, etc.

Keep them in your thoughts. It will be a rough time for a while. For Foggy Bottom readers,  please check with AAFSW or the FLO, they may need volunteers to assist with the arrivals.

Here is a brief post history of @USinStPete:

St. Petersburg was the site of the original U.S. Mission to Russia, established in 1780, with Frances Dana as the Minister-designate. Dana spent three years in St. Petersburg, but his credentials were never accepted by the Russian Court. Thus the first Minister Plenipotentiary (Ambassador) of the United States in Russia, was John Quincy Adams, who presented his credentials to Tsar Alexander I on the 5th of November, 1809.

Adams served almost five years in St. Petersburg during the Napoleonic Wars. He finally left St. Petersburg because, as he wrote to President James Madison, he could not afford the expenses related to being Ambassador at Court. John Quincy Adams later became the Sixth President of the United States.

Another future President of the United States, James Buchanan, served in St. Petersburg as “Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary” from 1832-1833.

During the turbulence of the revolution and civil war, Ambassador David R. Francis departed Russia on November 7, 1918, leaving Felix Cole to serve as Charge d’Affaires ad interim until the U.S. Embassy in Russia closed on September 14, 1919. By then, the ruling Bolsheviks had moved the country’s capital from Petrograd (the city’s name since the outbreak of the First World War) to Moscow, and the U.S. diplomatic presence in Peter’s City disappeared for over half a century.

The U.S. Mission was not restored until 1933, when the U.S. Embassy was opened in Moscow, the capital of the USSR.

The U.S. diplomatic presence was reestablished in Leningrad (as St. Petersburg was then called) in 1972, with the opening of a U.S. Consulate General.

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@JonHuntsman and @usconsvlad Jump Into Icy Water For Orthodox Epiphany

Posted: 12:02 am ET

 

The US Ambassador to Moscow Jon Huntsman and Consul General Michael Keays (and staffers) of US Consulate Vladivostok in separate events marked the Orthodox Ephiphany like millions of Russians by jumping into freezing waters. Take a look. We felt the polar woes just watching. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!

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US Ambassador to Russia @JonHuntsman Presents His Credentials in Moscow

Posted: 5:02 am ET
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U.S. Mission Russia: Ambassador and Mrs @JonHuntsman Now in Moscow

Posted: 12:31 am ET
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Ambassador John F. Tefft Pens Op-Ed as He Departs Russia, to Retire After 45 Years of Service

Posted: 2:23 am ET
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Ambassador John F. Tefft, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia left post on September 28. He is also retiring from the U.S. Foreign Service for the second time after 45 years of public service. He pens the following op-ed for The Moscow Times:

On the Day of My Departure

We need to rebuild trust between our two countries.

When I first joined the diplomatic service, working on the Soviet desk in the 1980s, our relationship with Russia was at a low point. The Soviet Union had just shot down a Korean Airliner, with almost 100 Americans including a Congressman on board. There was a lot of anger in America.

Today, as I prepare to leave Russia, our relationship has reached another low point. Americans are concerned and angry about Russian interference in our elections and by the Russian authorities’ refusal to accept their responsibility for it.

As Secretary Tillerson said, we need to rebuild trust between our two countries and move our relationship to a different place. The American people want the two most powerful nuclear nations in the world to have a better relationship. From the earliest days of this Administration we have said time and again that we would prefer a constructive relationship with Russia based on cooperation on common interests. We remain prepared to try to find a way forward.

Serving the American community is at the heart of the work of the U.S. Mission in Russia, and it will continue to be a main priority moving forward. The U.S. Embassy and our Consulates General throughout Russia first and foremost are here to provide services to the Americans living, working, and traveling in Russia. During my time here, I have seen what Americans can do in Russia to bring our countries together on a people-to-people, business-to-business, scholar-to-scholar, performer-to-performer level. This gives me hope, even during these difficult times.

With the help of our Foreign Commercial Service and Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. and Russian businesses receive assistance developing and expanding new relationships and introducing innovative technologies. This increases trade and investment and strengthens ties between our two countries. I have seen how cattle ranchers from the United States and Russia work together to produce high quality beef for the Russian market and how American-trained managers bring productivity and streamlined processing into Russian businesses to help make them more profitable and more successful.

I am particularly proud of the positive influence U.S. companies have had on the Russian business culture. When I contrast the present business culture with what I witnessed here in the 1990s, I notice tremendous progress in the areas of transparency, business ethics, and corporate social responsibility.

U.S. companies have led by example on corporate social responsibility. One major soft drinks manufacturer has partnered with governmental and non-governmental organizations to preserve and protect important watersheds; an oil and gas corporation has provided over $250 million to support infrastructure and community projects in Sakhalin and Khabarovsk Krai; and a paper and pulp producer supports social programs in Svetogorsk. These are just a few of the many examples of the benefits of the presence of U.S. companies here in Russia. I have also been very impressed with Russia’s talented business leaders, including women, many of whom rose from entry-level positions at U.S. companies to the highest ranks of leadership.

As I look back over my time here in Russia, I am struck by the richness of Russian culture and history. I will look back fondly on my travels to places like Tikhvin, where I had the pleasure of visiting Rimsky-Korsakov’s childhood home and seeing the piano on which so many amazing and talented Russian composers played and composed their works. I will particularly remember my annual visits to events such as the pop-culture and entertainment conference Comic-Con, my travels throughout the country to visit American businesses and partnerships, and all of the opportunities I have to meet with many creative, intelligent young Russians who are inspired by the possibilities of what we can do when we work together.

We will continue to stand up for our interests while looking for avenues of dialogue. We remain dedicated to finding ways to bring together Russians and Americans both to discuss our differences and to discover the many things we have in common. Having seen how we weathered the storm in the 1980s and the dedication of our staff of talented professionals in the State Department back home and here in Mission Russia, I remain optimistic that our governments will ultimately find a way forward. On our side, we’re certainly ready.

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Ambassador Tefft served as the United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation since September 2014. He previously served as Ambassador to Lithuania from 2000 to 2003, to Georgia from 2005 to 2009, and to Ukraine from 2009 to 2013. He worked from 2004 to 2005 as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs responsible for U.S. relations with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

Ambassador Tefft retired from the Foreign Service in September 2013 and served as Executive Director of the RAND Corporation’s Business Leaders Forum from October 2013 to August 2014 until his recall to duty and confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation.  From 2003 to 2004 Tefft was the International Affairs Advisor at the National War College in Washington, D.C. He was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1996 to 1999, and was Chargé d’Affaires from November 1996 to September 1997. His other Foreign Service assignments include Jerusalem, Budapest, and Rome.

He received the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award in 1992, the DCM of the Year Award for his service in Moscow in 1999 and the Diplomacy for Human Rights Award in 2013. He also received Presidential Meritorious Service Awards in 2001 and 2005.

Dusting Off the Moscow Microwave Biostatistical Study, Have a Read

Posted: 2:40 am ET
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CBS News Radio broke the story last month on the mysterious attacks against U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba. Those evaluated reportedly were diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury, and with likely damage to the central nervous system. On September 18, CBS News citing “two sources who are familiar with the incidents” said that a top official in charge of security for the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, is among at least 21 Americans affected by mysterious attacks that have triggered a range of injuries. In a follow-up report on September 20, CBS News says this:

An internal Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs document obtained by CBS News shows the State Department was fully aware of the extent of the attacks on its diplomats in Havana, Cuba, long before it was forced to acknowledge them.

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert only admitted the attacks were occurring after CBS News Radio first reported them August 9. The diplomats complained about symptoms ranging from hearing loss and nausea to headaches and balance disorders after the State Department said “incidents” began affecting them beginning in late 2016. A source familiar with these incidents says officials are investigating whether the diplomats were targets of a type of sonic attack directed at their homes, which were provided by the Cuban government. The source says reports of more attacks affecting U.S. embassy workers on the island continue.
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At the time, Nauert said she didn’t believe the number of Americans injured was in the tens or dozens. But a source says that by the time the State Department first publicly acknowledged the attacks, it knew the reports of Americans injured had reached double-digits.

Read in full: As number of injured diplomats soared, State Dept. kept Cuba attacks secret.

Related to these mysterious attacks, also see Microwaving U.S. Embassy Moscow: Oral History From FSOs James Schumaker and William A. Brown.

For those interested in the Moscow incidents, we’ve dug up the John Hopkins and subsequent technical reports on the Moscow microwave study (abstract and links below). We understand that there is also an AFSA report prepared on the Moscow incidents but we have not been able to locate a copy.

PB288163 | Evaluation of Health Status of Foreign Service and other Employees from Selected Eastern European Posts, Abraham M. Lilienfeld, M.D., Department of Epidemiology, School of Hygiene and Public Health The Johns Hopkins University (1978): This is a biostatistical study of 1827 Department of State employees and their dependents at the Moscow Embassy and 2561 employees and their dependents from other Eastern European Embassies. Health records, health questionnaires and death certificates were the basic information sources. The study is the impact of the Moscow environment including microwave exposure on the health status and mortality of the employees·. It was concluded that personnel working at the American Embassy in Moscow from 1953 to 1976 suffered no ill effects from the microwaves beamed at the Chancery. Excerpt:

A relatively high proportion of cancer deaths in both female employee groups was noted–8 out of 11 deaths among the Moscow and 14 out of 31 deaths among the Comparison group. However, it was not possible to find any satisfactory explanation for this, due mainly to the small numbers of deaths involved and the absence of information on many epidemiological characteristics that influence the occurrence of various types of malignant neoplasms. To summarize the mortality experience observed in the employees’ groups: there is no evidence that the Moscow group has experienced any higher total mortality or for any specific causes of death up to this time. It should be noted, however, that the population studied was relatively young and it is too early to have been able to detect long term mortality effects except for those who had served in the earliest period of the study. (p.243)
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The results of this study may well be interpreted as indicating that exposure to microwave radiation at the levels experienced at the Moscow embassy has not produced any deleterious health effects thus far. It should be clear however, that with the limitations previously discussed, any generalizations should be cautiously made. All that can be said at present is that no deleterious effects have been noted in the study population, based on the data that have been collected and analyzed. Since the group with the highest exposure to microwaves, those who were present at the Moscow embassy during the period from June 1975 to February 1976, has had only a short time for any effects to appear, it would seem desirable that this particular study population should be contacted at periodic intervals of 2 to 3 years, within the next several years in order to ascertain if any health effects would appear. Furthermore, it would be important to develop a surveillance system for deaths in the entire study population to be certain that no mortality differences occur in the future and to monitor the proportion of deaths due to malignancies, especially among the women.

There is also a need for an authoritative biophysical analysis of the microwave field that has been illuminating the Moscow embassy during the past 25 years with assessments based on theoretical considerations of the likelihood of any biological effects.

Read the full report here: PB288163. (PDF)

NTIA-SP-81-12 | The Microwave Radiation at U.S. Embassy Moscow and Its Biological Implications: An Assessment
(by NTIA/ERMAC, US Dept. of Commerce; US Dept. of State; and Applied Physics Laboratory, The Johns Hopkins University) 1981:  This report presents the results of an assessment of the likelihood of biological effects from the microwave environment within the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, USSR, based on a retrospective analysis of that environment. It contains a description of the microwave fields and models power density distribution within the Embassy from 1966 to 1977; estimated personnel exposures as a function of work and living locations in the Embassy; and the results of an assessment of the biological implications of the type and levels of exposure described. In summary, it was concluded that no deleterious biological effects to personnel would be anticipated from the micro- wave exposures as described. Read the full report here PB83155804 (PDF).

 

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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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16 USG Employees in “Sonic Attack” and More on The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons

Posted: 3:33 am  ET
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On August 24, during the Daily Press Briefing, the State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert confirmed that 16 USG employees were affected by the “sonic attack.”

We only now have the confirmation of the number of Americans who have been affected by this. We can confirm that at least 16 U.S. Government employees, members of our embassy community, have experienced some kind of symptoms. They have been provided medical treatment in the United States as well as in Cuba. We take this situation extremely seriously. We are trying to provide them the help, the medical care, the treatment, and the support that they need and the support that they deserve.

It is not clear at this time if this number includes family members. We are aware of at least one spouse who was reportedly affected by this attack, was medevaced with the employee-spouse, and both were reassigned elsewhere.

The spox also said that “The incidents are no longer occurring.”  A reporter asked “so if we haven’t found a device and we don’t know who did it, and we’re talking about symptoms that are not, like, “Ow,” no longer ow; we’re talking about things that have – that developed over time, how do we – how do we know that this isn’t ongoing?”

The spox gave a very unsatisfying answer as follows: “How do we know that it’s not – because we talk with our staff and we talk with the medical professionals.”

Below is a piece by Sharon Weinberger from her book, The Imagineers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency that Changed the World via FP:

In 1965, medical workers began showing up at the American embassy in Moscow, drawing blood from the employees inside. The American diplomats were told that doctors were looking for possible exposure to a new type of virus, something not unexpected in a country known for its frigid winters.

It was all a lie. The Moscow Viral Study, as it was called, was the cover story for the American government’s top secret investigation into the effects of microwave radiation on humans.
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A State Department doctor in charge of the blood tests, Cecil Jacobson, asserted that there had been some chromosomal changes, but none of the scientific reviews of his work seemed to back his view. Jacobson achieved infamy in later years, not for the Moscow Signal, but for fraud related to his fertility work. Among other misdeeds, he was sent to prison for impregnating possibly dozens of unsuspecting patients with his own sperm, rather than that of screened anonymous donors as they were expecting.

Richard Cesaro never attained that level of personal notoriety, but he asserted, even after he retired, that the Moscow Signal remained an open question. “I look at it as still a major, serious, unsettled threat to the security of the United States,” he said, when interviewed about it nearly two decades later. “If you really make the breakthrough, you’ve got something better than any bomb ever built, because when you finally come down the line you’re talking about controlling people’s minds.”

Perhaps, but Pandora resonated for years as the secrecy surrounding the project generated public paranoia and distrust of government research on radiation safety. Project Pandora was often cited as proof that the government knew more about the health effects of electro- magnetic radiation than it was letting on. The government did finally inform embassy personnel in the 1970s about the microwave radiation, prompting, not surprisingly, a slew of lawsuits.

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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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U.S. Mission Russia: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg #ThinkingofYou

Posted: 3:35  pm PT
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We’re thinking about the staffers at U.S. Mission Russia, at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and the U.S. Consulates General in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, and Yekaterinburg.  Those who will remain at posts will have to make do without the help of their colleagues and local staff, and those who are required to depart will have to find temporary homes at other posts until they can locate new assignments.  We’re only a few weeks away from school opening, so we anticipate that some Foreign Service kids could also be affected.  We have no doubt that our Foreign Service folks are resilient and will face the next weeks with strength and fortitude, but these will be difficult times nonetheless.

This will be especially hard for a large number of employees at U.S. Mission Russia who are local employees and do not have relocation as an option. We don’t know at this time if they will be placed on administrative furlough, or if there are other options specific to the Russian posts.  3 FAM 7732.4 provides for separation by reduction in force (RIF) for local employees for “lack of funds, reorganization, decrease of work, or similar reason.” OPM says that agencies must follow RIF procedures for furlough of more than 30 continuous calendar days, however it also says that employees may be placed on an extended furlough when the agency plans to recall the employee to his or her position within 1 year. The FAM provides for reemployment of  FSNs “separated upon expiration of a short term of employment” but we won’t really know how long this will last, do we?

 

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