Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Putin Ultimatum Piles Pressure on US Embassy Staff in Moscow

With 755 staff ordered to leave positions at the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, diplomats will face an unprecedented exodus as they are forced to comply with Vladimir Putin’s ultimatum, according to experts. “We are in uncharted waters here,” said James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Chatham House think tank in London. “No expulsion has ever happened to this extent before. This is totally unprecedented.” Putin ordered the dramatic reductions in diplomatic staff on Sunday. On Monday, a Kremlin spokesman said the U.S. may cut local employees as well as diplomats. Based on past experience, it will be locally hired staff who deal with less essential tasks in the U.S. missions — from general maintenance to support in the visa section — that will be the first to go. These cuts will be very hard to implement, according to the American ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, Michael McFaul, who recalled the difficulty of closing the U.S. Agency for International Development offices, with 70 employees, during his tenure. According to a 2013 State Department report, there are 1,279 workers among the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, three consulates general in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok and a consular agency in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Of those employees, 301 are U.S. hires and 934 are locally employed staff. Only U.S. hires have access to classified, confidential or other sensitive information. Diplomatic staff with the political and economic sections, as well as American citizen services and defense attachés are considered essential and will remain largely unaffected by the decision, former diplomats said. They declined to comment when asked how the cuts — equaling some 60 percent of staff — could affect intelligence operations. Russians applying for visas to the U.S. will also be affected, with longer waiting times likely, experts said.



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