The Trump administration has notified Congress lawmakers of its plan to shutter the last two remaining US consulates in Russia.
In a 10 December notice, the US Department of State told lawmakers that it would permanently close the consulate in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok last week. Moreover, it would also temporarily close operations at the consulate in Yekaterinburg in the east of the Ural Mountains.
The closures would leave the United States with only one diplomatic outpost, the US Embassy in Moscow at a time of elevated tensions between the two nations. Still, the notice appears as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take charge of the US government.
The 10 December notice comes three days before the news of a significant Russian computer intrusion into the US governmental and private computer systems. This hack action ultimately raised cybersecurity frights.
The Associated Press obtained the copy of the departmental notification to Congress. The notification clarifies that consulates closures are because of caps placed over the number of US diplomats permitted to work in the state by Russian officials in 2017.
The notification also stated that the moves are in response to ongoing staffing challenges of the US Mission in Russia owing to the 2017 Russian-imposed personnel cap on the US Mission and resultant deadlock with Russia over the diplomatic visas.
The embassy in Moscow will be the only diplomatic facility in Russia to the US following these closures.
Biden’s Team Developing a Cost-Effective Strategy to Respond Russia’s Disruptive Measures
US ordered the Russian consulate closure in Seattle as a tit-for-tat act of Russian direction of the closure of US consulate in ST.Petersburg in 2018 over poisoning a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom.
A spokesman of State Department confirmed the moves saying that the Secretary of State, in close consultation with Ambassador John Sullivan, has decided to close the US Consulate in Vladivostok. Moreover, he also decided to suspend operations at the US Consulate in Yekaterinburg as a part of ongoing efforts to confirm the safe and secure operation of the American diplomatic mission in Russia.
The notification to Congress said that 10 US diplomats specified to the consulate would be reassigned to the Embassy in Moscow and another 33 locally appointed staff would be expelled. Moreover, the notice states that once the congressional notification process finalizes, the consulates plan to begin a strategy to wipe out all sensitive material from the consulate including computers devices and controlled consular materials, with the aid of the Moscow Embassy.
When the closures are finalized before Biden takes office the next month is uncertain. The president-elect said that he and his team are developing a cost-effective strategy to respond to Russia’s disruptive measures, including cyber-attack if Moscow gets responsible. According to sources close to Biden, these measures will be included, but not limited to sanctions.
The consulates closures will leave the United States without diplomatic representation in a massive Russia.