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At the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, 182 local Russian staffers were laid off as part of a ban, with an August 1 deadline, by the Kremlin on mostly all non-American staff working there, the Associated Press reported.
The U.S. announced the layoffs Friday as the newest action in a series of moves by the U.S. and Russia that has dampened the relationship between the two nations. Secretary of Statesaid the U.S. hoped the layoffs could be avoided. Russia announced the ban of Russian staffers at the U.S. Embassy as well as the U.S. consulates in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok earlier this year as a retaliatory measure in response to U.S. moves that included expelling Russian diplomats.
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"These unfortunate measures will severely impact the U.S. 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 a statement.
"The United States is immensely grateful for the tireless dedication and commitment of our locally employed staff and contractors at U.S. Mission Russia," he also said.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
The United States said Friday it has laid off nearly 200 local staffers working for its diplomatic missions in Russia ahead of an August 1 deadline set by the Kremlin for their dismissal.
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The meeting between top diplomats led to no breakthroughs, but the two sides are agreeing to meet again in September.The discussions between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov at the US diplomatic mission in Geneva produced no breakthroughs. But the State Department said the two agreed on another high-level round of talks in late September.
Blinken said the layoffs are regrettable and something the U.S. had hoped to avert, despite a sharp deterioration in ties between Moscow and Washington, which show few signs of improvement.
"Although we regret the actions of the Russian government forcing a reduction in our services and operations, the United States will follow through on our commitments while continuing to pursue a predictable and stable relationship with Russia," he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry was silent on the matter and the Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a query.
Russia's ban on almost all non-American staff at the embassy in Moscow and consulates in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok also was in response to tit-for-tat closures of numerous diplomatic facilities in each country.
Those expulsions and closures came in the context of U.S. sanctions imposed over Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, and the arrest of opposition figureand crackdown on his supporters, as well as involvement in the SolarWinds hack of U.S. federal agencies. All are activities that Russia has denied.
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Russia's military chief said Moscow and Beijing have found "new ways of interaction and continued fruitful collaboration," while his Chinese counterpart said the two have "maintained strong and unwavering bilateral relations, becoming an important stabilizing force of the world today."The State Department announced Wednesday that a delegation headed by Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman met with a Russian team led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Geneva to mark the beginning of the U.S.-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue, which was outlined in last month's summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After the announcement of the ban, the embassy suspended routine consular services and since May has been processing immigrant visas only in the case of life-or-death emergencies.
The suspension of consular services has also left Russian businessmen, exchange students and romantic partners adrift because they are no longer able to obtain U.S. visas in Russia.
Still, the U.S. had been cautiously optimistic that the Russian decision might be reversed at last month's meeting between Presidentsand in Geneva. But those hopes evaporated even after the two sides resumed strategic arms control talks this week.
Thus, Friday's announcement sealed the employment fate of 182 locally employed staffers who worked as office and clerical staff, drivers and contractors at the U.S, facilities. Only security guards who work outside the gates of the compounds were exempted from the ban.
"We thank them for their contributions to the overall operations and their work to improve relations between our two countries. Their dedication, expertise and friendship have been a mainstay of Mission Russia for decades," Blinken said.
Russia: A new measure prohibits the US Embassy using Russian staff
© AFP - Yuri Kadobnov From August 1st, American embassies and consulates in Russia will no longer be able to use local staff. As early as August 1, US embassies and consulates in Russia will no longer be able to use local staff. A measure imposed by Moscow after the new sanctions decreed by the Biden administration last May and which will strongly impact the services offered by US representations.
"We value our deep connection to the Russian people," Blinken added. "Our people-to-people relationships are the bedrock of our bilateral relations."
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