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US Orders 24 Russian Diplomats Out     08/03 06:16


   MOSCOW (AP) -- The Russian ambassador to the United States says Washington 
has ordered 24 Russian diplomats to leave the country by Sept. 3, a move that 
comes shortly after the U.S. said it had laid off nearly 200 local staffers 
working for its diplomatic missions in Russia.

   They are the latest in a series of measures taken by both sides that have 
strained U.S.-Russia relations, although the State Department denied that its 
move was retaliatory.

   In an interview with The National Interest magazine, ambassador Anatoly 
Antonov said the embassy received a list of 24 Russian diplomats who are 
expected to leave the U.S. by Sept. 3.

   "Almost all of them will leave without replacements because Washington has 
abruptly tightened visa issuing procedures," Antonov said.

   In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed that the 
diplomats are expected to leave the U.S. but rejected Antonov's 
characterization of the situation as "incorrect." He said the expirations were 
not related to the situation with local staff at U.S. diplomatic facilities in 

   "There's a three-year limit on visa validity for Russians, it's nothing new. 
When visas expire, as you might expect, these individuals are expected to leave 
the country or apply for an extension. That is what is at play here," he told 
reporters. Price did not say whether applications for extensions would be 
considered or summarily rejected.

   Antonov said the situation with the embassies in both countries hasn't 
changed for the better since the June summit in Geneva between Russian 
President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden. It was after that summit 
that Antonov and his U.S. counterpart John Sullivan returned to their posts 
after being recalled for consultations.

   "Russian diplomatic missions in the United States are still forced to work 
under unprecedented restrictions that not only remain in effect, but are 
stepped up," Antonov said.

   "The expulsions of diplomats are implemented under far-fetched pretexts now 
and then. Last December the State Department unilaterally established a 
three-year limit on the assignment period for Russian personnel in the United 
States that, as far as we know, is not applied to any other country," he said.

   Antonov's interview comes several days after the State Department announced 
laying off 182 locally employed staffers at the U.S. facilities in Russia to 
comply with a ban on local hires the Kremlin imposed earlier this year in 
response to U.S. expulsions of Russian diplomats and tit-for-tat closures of 
numerous diplomatic facilities in each country.

   The expulsions occurred 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, the arrest of opposition figure Alexei Navalny 
and the crackdown on his supporters, and Russian involvement in the SolarWinds 
hack of U.S. federal agencies. All are activities that Russia has denied.

   After the announcement of the ban, the U.S. Embassy in Russia 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.

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