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U.S. Says Russia Denies Teacher Visas, Accuses Moscow Of Using Children As 'Pawns In Diplomatic Disputes'


U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman accused Russia of using schoolchildren as tools in "diplomatic disputes" between Moscow and Washington. (file photo)

U.S. officials say more than two dozen teachers at a Moscow school operated by the U.S. and British embassies have been denied work visas for the new school year, and accused Russia of using schoolchildren as "pawns in a diplomatic dispute."

A spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry called the U.S. statement "an outright lie.”

The dispute affects the Anglo-American School (AAS) in Moscow, which instructs about 1,100 students from 60 countries in the Russian capital's northern districts. The Canadian Embassy charters the school, along with the U.S. and British embassies.

As tensions between Moscow and Washington have worsened, Russian officials have signaled that they might consider shutting down the school, or making things difficult for teachers and staff.

The Anglo-American School of Moscow in Moscow (file photo)
The Anglo-American School of Moscow in Moscow (file photo)

In 2016, after the administration of then-U.S. President Barack Obama ordered the closure of Russian diplomatic properties in retaliation for alleged cyber-meddling, U.S. media reported that Russian officials had suggested they might close the school. Moscow denied the reports, and no such thing occurred.

In a statement to RFE/RL on July 17, U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman said Russia had denied visas to 30 teachers who were due to start work at AAS next month, about a fifth of the school's teaching staff.

He said the school was being forced to consider denying entry to some enrolled students, or shuffling responsibility among existing teachers.

Huntsman accused Russia of using schoolchildren as tools in "diplomatic disputes" between Moscow and Washington, though he did not say what specifically it was linked to.

"The Russian government has made the unfortunate decision not to issue ‎visas to the incoming teachers who are expected to arrive next month to start the school year at the Anglo-American School of Moscow," he said. "Children should not be used as pawns in diplomatic disputes."

In a post to Facebook, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, called the U.S. statement "an outright lie" and asserted that the U.S. Embassy was wrongly granting the teachers diplomatic status to work at the school.

"The U.S. authorities have now apparently created a dead-end situation in order to come up with another scandal that makes hostages of citizens from both countries," she wrote.

She also asserted that U.S. authorities had refused to provide diplomatic status for administrative and technical staff at Russian diplomatic missions in the United States.

A man who answered the phone at the school declined to answer questions about the teachers' visa status and deferred comment to the U.S. Embassy.

The British Embassy could not be immediately reached for comment.

In September 2018, a similar school for children of foreign diplomats in St. Petersburg had its lease canceled and was ordered closed.

With reporting by TASS
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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.