The United States says it has laid off nearly 200 local employees from its diplomatic missions in Russia ahead of an August 1 deadline set by the Kremlin to do so — a move made by Moscow in response to U.S. sanctions and the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United States.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on July 30 that the layoffs are regrettable and will severely impact the operations of U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia.
“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,” Blinken said. “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.”
The layoffs will potentially impact the safety of U.S. personnel “as well as our ability to engage in diplomacy with the Russian government,” he added.
Blinken said the United States regrets the ban but “will follow through on our commitments while continuing to pursue a predictable and stable relationship with Russia.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry was silent on the matter. The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment from RFE/RL.
Russia earlier this year announced a ban on almost all non-American staff at the embassy in Moscow as well as the U.S. consulates in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. That move came after Washington expelled Russian diplomats from the United States and tit-for-tat closures of diplomatic facilities in both countries amid deteriorating relations.
Russia announced its ban after U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order on April 15 outlining the expulsions of 10 Russian diplomats and sanctions against dozens of Russian individuals and entities.
Biden signed the order in response to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the jailing of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, and other actions against the United States and its interests. In addition, the U.S. Treasury placed limits on the Russian sovereign debt market.
Russia responded by declaring 10 employees at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as personae non gratae. They had to leave the country by May 21. The U.S. Embassy suspended routine consular services, and since May has been processing immigrant visas only in cases of life-or-death emergencies.
In his July 30 statement Blinken, thanked the dismissed local employees in Russia, saying the United States was “immensely grateful for the tireless dedication and commitment” they showed and their work to improve U.S.-Russia relations.
“Their dedication, expertise and friendship have been a mainstay of Mission Russia for decades,” Blinken said.
With reporting by AP