US Ambassador to Russia cleans toilets due to staff shortage at the American diplomatic mission in Moscow
Amid escalating tensions between Russia and the United States, the American embassy in Moscow remains severely understaffed. Washington Post.
The US Consular Section in Moscow, which previously had more than 60 employees, has been cut to five and now only works with emergency services for US citizens and a very limited number of other critical services.
The embassy has so few hands that many employees had to do extra work.
US Ambassador John Sullivan, for example, learned how to mix toilet cleaning solutions as well as how to operate a floor washer in case staff support diminishes further during a pandemic.
“Despite significant tensions over the buildup of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, American diplomats overcame months of confrontation with the Kremlin over the issue of visas to the US Embassy in Moscow during a meeting with their Russian counterparts in Vienna,” said US officials familiar with situation.
The agreement, which still needs to be worked out, came after years of diplomatic strife that left the embassy extremely understaffed, from 1200 five years ago to 120 today.
“If the agreement is adopted, this breakthrough could prevent a dire situation predicted by US officials, in which the embassy will be practically closed and will no longer support basic diplomatic functions, such as sending telegrams to Washington informing about the political, economic and security situation in Russia, ”the officials said.
It would also remove the US mission's current status of "authorized exit", a kind of voluntary evacuation for family members of diplomats in Russia and non-emergency personnel.
Groups of US officials led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Robinson drafted the agreement during a meeting with Russian envoys on November 17 and are scheduled to meet again this month to finalize the agreement.
Relations between the United States and Russia have seriously deteriorated over the past year on a number of issues, including a buildup of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine, alleged Kremlin meddling in the US elections, malicious cyber activity, and sanctions over the treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year. and later imprisoned.
Following a meeting between Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Stockholm on Thursday, Blinken warned of "serious consequences" for Moscow if it takes military action against Ukraine.
Western officials have sounded the alarm that they said some 100 Russian troops were stationed near the border with that country.
According to Lavrov, "expert consultations" were held on the diplomatic missions of the two countries.
But he accused Washington of unwillingness to "take constructive steps."
Moscow's requests include the return of two diplomatic complexes outside New York and on the east coast of Maryland, which were seized by the United States in 2016.
US officials claimed the sites were being used as spy posts.
“It would be ideal to just zero all these restrictions and return to the normal, respectful functioning of our diplomatic missions,” Lavrov told reporters in Stockholm.
Last year, the United States permanently closed its consulate in Vladivostok in the Russian Far East and temporarily suspended its consulate in Yekaterinburg.
In May, Russia banned the embassy from hiring foreign citizens, designating the United States as an "unfriendly" country.
This led to the embassy having to lay off more than 200 employees.
Then in August, the US Embassy in Moscow suspended visa and other consular services.
During the latest diplomatic dispute between the countries, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued an order to the US embassy staff, who have been working in the country for more than three years, to leave the country by the end of January.
Foreign ministry officials said the move was in response to Washington's ordering 55 Russian diplomats to leave the country - 27 by January 30 and 28 by June 30, because they have been in the country for longer than three years.
More than a year ago, the United States informed Russia that its diplomats would be appointed for a three-year term, a State Department official said, adding that Russia could replace outgoing ones by appointing other members of its diplomatic corps to these positions.
“The United States approach creates greater parity in our diplomatic missions as both will change personnel at the same frequency,” the spokesman said.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova compared the US decision to expulsion.
"Until July 1 of next year, unless Washington abandons the three-year rule and compromises, American workers in Russia will leave in numbers commensurate with the number of Russians announced by the State Department," she said at a December 1 press conference.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters that "there is still time" to change course and called on Washington to allow 55 diplomats to remain in the United States.
Ryabkov said last month that Russia is calling on the United States to "strengthen its presence in Moscow and send new staff so that at least consular services in Russia are provided on a more or less normal scale."
But a US administration official said that while the US embassy can accommodate up to 455 people, "we cannot obtain visas for American officers to travel here."
Even if Moscow does start issuing visas to US employees, the embassy is still far from resuming consular services.
A more pressing need is security and comprehensive services such as elevators and fire extinguishing systems.
As in many other countries, US missions overseas depend on the recruitment of foreign nationals, as it is considered too costly to fill these jobs with Americans. Russia is an exception. His embassies and consulates around the world work exclusively with Russians.
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The US spokesman added that Washington still "wants Russian students, athletes, and so on, to travel to the United States - and vice versa."
“Even if we didn't have a pandemic that restricts travel, we simply won't be able to issue visas. We want to be able to support travel, ”he said.
Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, says few Russians can travel abroad, so the suspension of consular services has affected a small segment of the population.
"The Russian Foreign Ministry uses this topic in its propaganda, but this is only part, not the most important, in the permanent anti-American campaign," added Kolesnikov.
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