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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U.S. and 20+ Countries Expel Russian Diplomats Over UK Nerve Agent Attack

Posted: 4:08 am  ET

 

 

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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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U.S. Mission Russia: Ambassador and Mrs @JonHuntsman Now in Moscow

Posted: 12:31 am ET
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Sharon Weinberger: The Imagineers of War (Excerpt)

Posted: 12:25 am ET
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We mentioned Sharon Wienberger’s book a couple days ago in 16 USG Employees in “Sonic Attack” and More on The Secret History of Diplomats and Invisible Weapons.  For readers who may be interested, below is an excerpt courtesy of Kindle Preview:

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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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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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Tillerson in Moscow to Talk #Syria, #DPRK, US-#Russia Relation

Posted: 2:50 am ET
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Consulate General St Petersburg: Two U.S. Diplomats Slipped “Date-Rape” Drug in Russia

Posted: 1:36 am ET
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The U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg is the largest of the three consulates general in Russia. It is the nearest to Moscow and is the site for many high-level bilateral and multilateral meetings. According to the 2013 OIG report on US Mission Russia, employees face intensified pressure by the Russian security services at a level not seen since the days of the Cold War. The mission employs 1,279 staff, including 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed (LE) staff positions from 35 U.S. Government agencies (2013 OIG report).

Via RFE/RL:

Two U.S. officials traveling with diplomatic passports were drugged while attending a conference in Russia last year, and one of them was hospitalized, in what officials have concluded was part of a wider, escalating pattern of harassment of U.S. diplomats by Russia.

The incident at a hotel bar during a UN anticorruption conference in St. Petersburg in November 2015 caused concern in the U.S. State Department, which quietly protested to Moscow, according to a U.S. government official with direct knowledge of what occurred.

But it wasn’t until a dramatic event in June, when an accredited U.S. diplomat was tackled outside the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, that officials in Washington reexamined the November drugging and concluded they were part of a definite pattern.
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The U.S. government official told RFE/RL that U.S. investigators concluded that the two Americans — a man and a woman — were slipped a so-called date rape drug, most likely at a bar in the St. Petersburg hotel where they were staying.

One of the Americans was incapacitated and brought to a Western medical clinic in the city for treatment, and to have blood and tissue samples taken in order to determine precisely what caused the sudden illness. However, while the person was at the clinic, the electricity suddenly went out and the staff was unable to obtain the necessary tissue samples, the official said.

The individual was then flown out of the country for further medical treatment, but by then it was too late to gather proper samples, the official said.

Because the U.S. officials in attendance at the conference were not top-level State or Justice officials, the State Department decided to take a quiet approach to the incident.A formal note of protest was lodged, the official said, but Russian authorities asked for evidence that the person had been drugged, and the Americans lacked samples.

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