MOSCOW, December 11. /TASS/. The US Consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok will resume nonimmigrant visa interviews, which were suspended on August 23. However, US Embassy Spokesperson Maria Olson explained in an interview with TASS that visa interviews would be conducted on a limited scale due to diplomatic staff cuts.
On August 23, the US Embassy in Russia suspended all nonimmigrant visa operations throughout the country. The procedure resumed in Moscow on September 1, while the Consulates General in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok did not issue visas.
After the US Congress voted for anti-Russian sanctions at the end of July, Moscow instructed Washington to cap the number of diplomatic and technical staff working in the US Embassy to Moscow and the Consulates General in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok to the exact number of Russian diplomats and technical staff members working in the US before September 1. That meant that the total number of the staff at US diplomatic and consular establishments had to be reduced to 455 people. Later on, Russian President Vladimir Putin said 755 US diplomats and technical staff should leave Russia.
"There are a number of acute problems, which, despite the positive announcement by the American side (on resuming nonimmigrant visa interviews in three US Consulates in Russia) have not been solved to date," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told TASS when asked whether Russia would come up with any reciprocal moves in response to the US’ positive decision. "I would say that there are more questions than answers there. We do not understand what this will mean in terms of schedules for considering visa applications," he stressed.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Moscow sees "the Americans' promise to resume visa operations at its Consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok as of December 11 as a step in the right direction." However, it pointed to a number of problems. "The decision to cut the visa operations staff was made in Washington. That was done deliberately, creating difficulties for Russians and hoping to provoke public discontent," it stressed.
"At some point, there were even mass delays in issuing visas to Aeroflot crews making regular flights to the US, which is fraught with their disruption and violates the bilateral air communication agreement," the Russian Foreign Ministry noted. "Russian athletes who failed to take part in international competitions likewise had serious problems, which looks like the deliberate discrimination of our athletes."
"We hope that Washington’s stance will be reconsidered," the ministry said, adding that back in 2011 Russia offered the US to give up visas for mutual short-term trips.