US Embassy in Russia suspends issuing non-immigrant visas
The US Embassy in Russia has announced it will suspend issuing non-immigrant visas in Moscow for eight days from Wednesday and stop issuing visas at its consulates elsewhere in Russia in response to the Russian decision to cap embassy staff.
The embassy made the decision - which could affect hundreds of thousands of Russian tourists - after the Russian Foreign Ministry ordered a cap on the number of US diplomatic personnel in Russia, it said in a statement.
It added that it would resume issuing visas in Moscow on September 1, but maintain the suspension at consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.
Nearly a quarter of a million Russian tourists visited the US last year, according to Russian tourism officials.
Earlier this month, Russia ordered the US to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755, or by two-thirds, heightening tensions between Washington and Moscow after the US Congress approved sanctions against Russia for meddling in the 2016 US election and for its aggression in Ukraine and Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow felt forced to reciprocate to the new package of sanctions against what he dismissed as "unfounded accusations", but that it would hold off on further steps against the US.
The vast majority of the more than 1,000 employees at the various US diplomatic missions in Russia, including the embassy in Moscow and the three consulates, are local employees.
The US embassy said on Monday that Russia's decision to cut its staff "calls into question Russia's seriousness about pursuing better relations".
It insisted, however, that it will be able to maintain adequate staffing "to carry out essential elements of our mission".
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference the decision to cut visa operations aims to make Russians feel discontent with their own government.
Asked about a possible Russian reaction, he said Russia will "study" the embassy's announcement, adding that unlike the US government Russia "is not going to take it out on US citizens".