The US embassy in Russia has declared the dismissal of more than 200 local employees, attributing the move to Moscow’s retaliatory ban on Washington that restricts it from hiring non-Americans on its soil.
The Friday announcement followed a statement by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken that said, "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."
However, the Russian ban on the use of non-American employees at US diplomatic posts throughout the country was announced earlier this year in response to Washington's expulsion of Russian diplomats and tit-for-tat shut-down of numerous diplomatic facilities in both countries.
Those expulsions and closures came after Washington initiated anti-Russia sanctions over its unverified claims of Russian interference in the US 2020 presidential election, the poisoning of a former Russian spy for Britain, the arrest of pro-Western blogger Alexei Navalny and its alleged involvement in cyber-attacks on US federal agencies. Moscow has rejected all the allegations.
"These unfortunate measures will severely impact the US 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," Blinken said in the statement.
"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,” he added.
Following the original announcement of the ban in May, the US embassy suspended routine consular services and has been processing immigrant visas only in the case of life-or-death emergencies.
The move has also left Russian businessmen, exchange students and matrimonial partners stranded since they are no longer able to acquire US visas in Russia.
The development came amid persisting hostilities between the two traditional rivals and shortly after Russia’s defense minister slammed recent US talks with Central Asian governments in efforts to establish military bases and other facilities in the region following its disastrous withdrawal from the war-ravaged Afghanistan.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the remarks during a press conference on Wednesday, insisting that it is no secret that such talks "are rather assertive and intrusive."
"The US declared far and wide that they are leaving Afghanistan. And this is true. But at the same time, they are holding talks with all the countries neighboring Afghanistan on creating some logistical centers and bases for pulling out equipment from there, and of course, establishing centers that could admit refugees from Afghanistan, people who the US cooperated with for many years over there," he said.
"I can say one thing here, and it’s simply logical: why are you withdrawing if you basically stand there behind the fence, trying to look through the gaps to see what is going on over there? Why leave then? To literally remain on the border? The answer is absolutely clear: this is an attempt to take root in the Central Asian region. Naturally, after losing everything that can be lost in Afghanistan," he added.
Shoigu said it was hard to find a place on the planet "where the US came and stayed for a long time with good consequences," citing Syria and Libya as examples.
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