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.”

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Foreign Service Posts Evacuation Tracker: Authorized and Ordered Departures, Post Closures (as of 4/15/20)

Updated/1:35 pm PDT

Authorized departure is an evacuation procedure, short of ordered departure, by which post employees and/or eligible family members are permitted to leave post in advance of normal rotation when U.S. national interests or imminent threat to life requires it. Authorized departure is voluntary, requested by the chief of mission (COM) and approved by the Under Secretary for Management (M). The incumbent to this office is Brian Bulatao.
Ordered departure is an evacuation procedure by which the number of U.S. government employees, eligible family members, or both, at a Foreign Service post is reduced. Ordered departure is mandatory and may be initiated by the chief of mission or the Secretary of State
Posts with very few exceptions, report to their regional or geographic bureaus headed respectively by an Assistant Secretary, a Senate confirmed position. Four of the seven regional bureaus at State are headed by officials in their acting capacity (EUR, SCA, WHA, IO).  
We’ve heard from one post in Africa where COM was apparently told by a senior State Department official that non-emergency personnel should leave with the authorized departure flight or be involuntarily curtailed from post.
Can you still  call a voluntary evacuation voluntary if non-emergency personnel are under threat of curtailments if they don’t go? Is this unique to this one post or is the arm twisting more widespread within AF posts or other bureaus.
Another post in Africa told us that its COM has raised the possibility of involuntary curtailment if folks don’t want to depart on AD but that this was COM’s idea not Washington’s. One source explained that  from a post perspective, you do not want to go on OD because  “you lose control.”  This is probably a limited perspective based on the circumstances of specific posts. Or is it?
What about from the mothership’s perspective? To OD post or not to OD? Why, or why not?
We were told that the “challenge” with “ordered departures” is that Washington is “involved in micromanaging” the termination of the OD but also with the staffing/movement of personnel. Every time post permits anyone to return to post for any reason, the mothership has to review it. Our source told us that the amount of time to review every tweak and revision of staffing would probably be considerable even if just half the posts worldwide are on OD.
We note that per 3 FAM 3774 “official travel to a post or country where an authorized or ordered departure is in effect is prohibited without the formal approval of the Under Secretary for Management (M) following approval of a post policy that clearly describes appropriate restrictions and limits exceptions, in accordance with the procedures described under Waivers of Travel Prohibitions (3 FAM 3776).” Excerpt:

b. In limited circumstances, M may delegate to the COM the authority to approve travel to and from a post under authorized departure (including travel related to rest and recuperation (R&R), home leave, annual leave, etc.) for permanently assigned employees, family members, and MOHs who do not elect authorized departure status.  M also may delegate to the COM, in limited circumstances, the authority to approve travel to post for employees who were away from post when ordered departure was approved.

c.  In situations in which the Under Secretary for Management (M) has not delegated authority to the COM, waiver requests will be forwarded to the regional bureau executive director for review and a recommendation for approval or denial.  If approved in principle by the regional bureau, the request will be forwarded to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) for clearance and returned to the regional bureau executive director for submission to M.  To provide time for the review and approval/denial process, travelers must allow a minimum of 20 working days following submission of requests to the Department for all but the most urgent medical or casualty-related travel.  Given changing conditions in these locations, requests should not be submitted to the Department more than 35 days prior to the proposed departure date.

d. For posts where operations have been suspended or countries where the United States is engaged in contingency operations: Requests for a waiver of the prohibition on official and personal travel to a post or country where operations have been suspended or countries where the United States is engaged in contingency operations must be approved by the Under Secretary for Management, who may waive the prohibition in unusual or compelling circumstances.  The request must be made initially to the regional bureau executive director for review and a recommendation for approval or denial.  If approved in principle by the regional bureau, the request will be forwarded to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) for clearance and returned to the regional bureau executive director for submission to M.  To provide time for the review and approval/denial process, travelers must allow a minimum of 20 working days following submission of requests to the Department for all but the most urgent medical or casualty-related travel.  Given changing conditions in these locations, requests should not be submitted to the Department more than 35 days prior to the proposed departure date.  Approvals for such travel can be revoked at any time by M and M can impose conditions on the traveler’s length of stay, whereabouts, and/or activities in country.  The traveler must explain in detail where he/she will reside during his/her stay; unless approved by the Under Secretary for Management, no employee, family member, or member of household may reside in State Department leased or owned facilities while operations are suspended.

Anyhow, if you have further thoughts on this, drop us a line. Below is a revised evacuation tracker, no additional AD/OD posts since March 28 but we’ve now added the two post closures, the Consulates General in Wuhan and Vladivostok. Note updated date of post closure for Wuhan.  We could not locate an announcement of post closure except as part of an update on the China Travel Advisory dated February 19, which may not be the actual date when USCG Wuhan was officially closed.
Also, please note that the term “non-essential” personnel has been generally replaced with the term “non-emergency” personnel. However, we still occasionally see this term used in official releases from overseas posts. Also as late as 2018, the Foreign Affairs Manual in its danger pay section still makes references to “non-essential” personnel.

@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: 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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See photos after the fold.

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