US Closes Russian Visa Centers, Revokes Tax Exemptions for Diplomats

The Americans are also trying to make Russia’s diplomats “hide behind embassy walls,” but this won’t happen, Anatoly Antonov has said

The US authorities are closing both offices of the Russian visa center in the country and depriving Russia’s diplomats of tax exemption, Moscow’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, has said.

The Russia Visa Application Center operates in Washington and New York, assisting those looking to get permits to travel to Russia with preparing the necessary papers and submitting them to the Russian consular offices.

“The Americans notified us that the visa center is closing,” Antonov told the journalists on Saturday. The move by Washington creates a “serious extra burden for us given the fact that our consulate general offices in Houston and New York are drained of blood” due to the expulsions of Russian diplomats from the US, he stressed.

Another “petty, nasty attack” by Washington is the decision to take away the tax exemption cards from the Russian embassy workers, the ambassador said. Those cards are a common practice, being handed out to diplomats in all countries, he explained.

The US officials didn’t provide any reasoning for their actions, Antonov noted. As for a possible response by Moscow, he said that “there is no need to make any rash moves. We need to consider what the specific consequences of what we will have to do are going to be.”

According to the ambassador, the Americans “are trying to break [Russia], trying to change [its] foreign policy, trying to force our diplomats to hide behind the walls of the embassy, to stop communicating and working,” he said.

“This will not happen. Until the last diplomat, while we remain here, we will keep performing our duties,” the ambassador assured.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have steadily deteriorated over the past decade, with the administration of former US President Barack Obama shutting down several Russian consulates after accusing Moscow of “interference” in the 2016 presidential election. The diplomatic row has only escalated since Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine in February 2022, prompting a wave of Western sanctions and several tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats by both countries.

Last month, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov warned that Moscow may well downgrade its diplomatic ties with Washington if the West “continues on the path of escalation” in terms of supporting Ukraine or making hostile economic moves.