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US mission in Russia 'forced' to let go of over 200 staff

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By Euronews with AP
The U.S. Embassy and the National flag in Moscow, Russia.
The U.S. Embassy and the National flag in Moscow, Russia.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
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The US mission in Russia announced on Friday it is letting go of more than 200 staff after Moscow banned Washington from contracting non-American on its soil.

"Starting in August, the Russian government is prohibiting the United States from retaining, hiring, or contracting Russian or third-country staff, except our guard force," US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken explained in a statement.

"We are deeply saddened that this action will force us to let go of 182 local employees and dozens of contractors at our diplomatic facilities in Moscow, Vladivostok, and Yekaterinburg.

"These unfortunate measures will severely impact the US mission to Russia's operations, potentially including the safety of our personnel as well as our ability to enagage in diplomacy with the russian government," it added.

The Russian ban on non-American staff at the US mission facilities was announced earlier this year in response to Washington's expulsion of Russian diplomats and 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 figure Alexei Navalny and crackdown on his supporters, as well as involvement in the SolarWind hack of U.S. federal agencies. All are activities that Russia has denied.

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.

Blinken said that "the United States is immensely grateful for the tireless dedication and commitment of our locally employed staff and contractors at U.S. Mission Russia."

"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," he added.