The outgoing American ambassador to Russia says the U.S. move to suspend all nonimmigrant visa operations at U.S. missions across Russia is a result of forced staff cuts and “not about being vindictive.”
“This is simply because we've been told by the [Russian] Foreign Ministry that we have to cut down our staff to 455,” Ambassador John Tefft told Russian state-run TASS news agency in an interview published August 23.
“It's all the processing. It's the security. And so the only way we can do this -- it's not about being vindictive,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month directed the United States to cut 755 out of about 1,200 employees at the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia, after the U.S. Congress passed a tough new law cementing sanctions against Moscow over its aggression in Ukraine and for allegedly meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said on August 21 that it was suspending "all nonimmigrant visa operations" at U.S. missions across Russia as of August 23 due to the Russian-imposed cap on U.S. diplomatic staff.
The embassy said operations will resume in Moscow on September 1, but they will “remain suspended indefinitely” at U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok.
“It's unfortunate, but we don't have any choice, because we have a lot of responsibilities here,” the ambassador told TASS.
Tefft is in the final stages in his role as U.S. ambassador to Moscow. On July 18, the White House said it will nominate Jon Huntsman Jr., former ambassador to China, to be U.S. President Donald Trump's ambassador to Russia.
Congressional confirmation hearings for Huntsman are expected begin to in September.