The Trump administration informed Congress of its plans to close the last two US consulates in Russia, leaving the US embassy in Moscow as the only US diplomatic mission in the country.
The State Department sent a letter to congressional leaders on December 10th that said the US is permanently closing its consulate in Vladivostok, and temporarily halting operations at the consulate in Yekaterinburg.
According to the letter, the US is shuttering the consulates due to caps set by Moscow on the number of diplomats allowed in the country. In 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin set new limits on the number of US diplomatic employees in response to US sanctions.
The letter says the move is “in response to ongoing staffing challenges of the US Mission in Russia in the wake of the 2017 Russian-imposed personnel cap on the US Mission and resultant impasse with Russia over diplomatic visas.”
In December 2016, then-President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats for Moscow’s alleged interference in the presidential election, which was never substantiated. Putin chose not to retaliate against Obama’s move.
The news comes at a sensitive time for US-Russia relations. Several US government agencies were targeted in a major cyberattack that many in the US are blaming on Russia, despite a lack of evidence to show Moscow was involved.
Some senators are calling for retaliation against Russia. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) even likened it to a “virtual invasion.” But the shuttering of the consulates does not appear to be connected to the cyberattack since the administration informed Congress a few days before the hack was reported.