U.S. halts non-immigrant visas in Russian Federation as diplomatic standoff deepens

U.S. halts non-immigrant visas in Russian Federation as diplomatic standoff deepens

The United States says that "all nonimmigrant visa operations" at US missions across Russia will be suspended as of August 23 due to the Russian-imposed cap on USA diplomatic staff.

- The U.S. diplomatic mission to Russian Federation said Monday that it planned to sharply reduce visa services because of Moscow's order to cut its staff, the latest in a series of tit-for-tat penalties by the two countries.

A USA embassy statement said non-immigrant visas would no longer be issued at the three United States consulates in Russian Federation - only at the Moscow embassy.

"The first impression is that the American authors of these decisions have come up with another attempt to stir up discontent among Russian citizens about the actions of the Russian authorities", Lavrov said at a news conference in Moscow on Monday.

Lavrov further said Moscow would first examine the measures adopted by the United States embassy in Russian Federation before making a decision on retaliatory steps, promising not to direct its anger at ordinary Americans.

He promised that Moscow would not take out its anger on ordinary USA citizens, Vestnik Kavkaza reports.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The US has consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

Moscow's counter-measures call for the U.S. to reduce the total number of employees at its missions in Russian Federation by 755 to 455, on par with numbers at Russia's diplomatic missions in the USA, by September 1. In written comments to the Moscow Times, the International Visa Center said the announcement meant the outcomes of 19 applications were now up in the air.

Russians received more than 190,000 non-immigrant visas to enter the United States in the 2016 fiscal year, according to State Department data, an 18 percent increase over the prior year.

Moscow has already responded by ousting hundreds of USA diplomats and barring access to embassy properties near Moscow.

In response, President Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S. Embassy to cut 755 positions in the country - roughly two-thirds - by September 1.

Trump, who took office pledging better ties with Moscow, had promised to weigh a response.

The U.S. Mission to Russia told anyone with a visa interview scheduled at any consulate outside Moscow could reschedule it in the embassy in the Russian capital.

Almost a quarter of a million Russian tourists visited the US last year, according to Russian tourism officials.

They are also looking into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.

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