Comment by the Information and Press Department on the issuance of US entry visas
We are bewildered by the ongoing attempts to justify the sharp decrease in the number of US visas issued to Russian citizens by citing “shortage of personnel” at consular missions, and to blame it on the Russian authorities at that. This is how the situation was presented once again by Laurence E. Tobey, Minister-Counselor for Consular Affairs at the US Embassy in Moscow, in his interview with the Nezavisimaya Gazeta on April 19.
The situation with US visas in Russia is extremely frustrating. The official wait time before a visa interview, which was extended by Washington in August 2017 to 85 days, has been recently stretched to 250 days, that is, eight months now. In other words, there is almost no point in applying for a visa.
Russia is not to blame here. When last year Russia demanded that the diplomatic presence be made equal, it was Washington that took a decision to cut the number of personnel in the visa department. In March, no consular workers were declared persona non grata when US diplomats were expelled in response to the mass expulsion of our colleagues. All the staff of the US Consulate General in St Petersburg, which ceased operation in response to the forced closure of the Russian Consulate General in Seattle, was transferred to Moscow. So there is nothing impeding visa services, provided there is the will, which the USA evidently lacks.
Washington’s visa blockade is absolutely deliberate, and intended as one more source of leverage. Russian citizens are being purposely targeted for Russia’s independent course of action on the global stage, disrupting visits en mass for business, cultural, academic purposes, or just to see family and friends. It looks as if the US authorities fear that Russian arrivals will open Americans’ eyes on the absurdity of the anti-Russia propaganda being imposed on them, and for that reason they deliberately limit contacts between people.
Air travel between our countries may even be stopped. Aeroflot, the only airline with regular flights between Russia and the United States, might be forced to cancel them since the crews are experiencing growing problems with getting US visas. And this happens, as the Nezavisimaya Gazeta rightly comments, despite the obligation to provide visas for aircraft crews well in advance under the 1994 Russian-US Air Transport Agreement.
As such, it is odd to hear US diplomats complain when the Russian Foreign Ministry reminds them of their obligations, including the requirement to issue visas to Aeroflot pilots. Or of the fact that the US authorities have to ensure access for all athletes, including Russian ones, to international competitions on US territory. The story of the national freestyle wrestling team invited for the world championships in Iowa on April 5-9 but was denied visas showed clear discrimination against our athletes. We hope it will make international athletic federations consider whether the USA can be trusted to host such tournaments.
Of course, it is regrettable that Washington prefers to cut ties between our people including by creating visa obstacles. No awkward attempts can veil or justify that vicious course of action. For our part, we are happy to welcome Americans coming to Russia. We expect that there will be more US citizens who will want to see our country with their own eyes since direct communication is the best way to ensure mutual understanding and trust.