By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States accused Russia on Wednesday of using children as pawns, after Moscow rejected visas for dozens of new teachers at an English-language school set up by the U.S., British and Canadian embassies in Moscow for the children of diplomats.
U.S. ambassador Jon Huntsman said 30 teachers who had been due to arrive in Moscow next month had been denied visas, a move he said could force Moscow’s Anglo American School to cut the number of children attending.
“Children should not be used as pawns in diplomatic disputes,” Huntsman said in comments shared by the U.S. embassy. He said he hoped to resolve the issue before the school year starts.
Moscow has blamed Washington for the dispute, saying that the United States had sought inappropriate diplomatic visas for teachers at a school that should be treated as a commercial enterprise.
Founded by the three embassies in 1949 for the children of diplomats, the school is now attended by 1,200 students, including children of embassy staff, other expatriates and wealthy Russians.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the U.S. embassy in Moscow last week that it would not issue visas for the incoming teachers, according to a letter sent to parents by Heather Byrnes, a U.S. diplomat.
The letter warned parents of “serious consequences” for the school, potentially forcing it to reduce enrolment.
Russian news agencies cited the foreign ministry as saying it had repeatedly asked the embassy in the past to discuss the school’s status and visas for its teachers.
Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported in June 2017 that Moscow was considering making life difficult for the school as well as other measures to retaliate against sanctions imposed against Russia by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2016.
Western relations with Moscow have been strained particularly since 2014, when the United States and European Union imposed sanctions over Russia’s seizure of territory from Ukraine and support for rebels there. Other issues causing friction range from Syria to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England.
(Editing by Peter Graff)