U.S. Will Close Last Two Consulates in Russia

By Pranshu Verma, NY Times

The closure would leave the United States with one remaining diplomatic outpost in Russia amid heightened tensions between the two countries.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has notified members of Congress that it plans to close the last two remaining United States consulates in Russia.

In a letter dated Dec. 10, the State Department said it plans to close the consulate in Vladivostok, a major port city in far-east Russia, and temporarily suspend its operations at the consulate in Yekaterinburg, east of the Ural Mountains.

The closure of these consulates would leave the United States with one remaining diplomatic outpost in Russia — the embassy in Moscow — amid heightened tensions between the two countries.

The State Department notification was sent days before reports emerged of a suspected Russian cyberattack against numerous federal agencies and companies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said that “we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”

According to the notification to Congress, the consulates are being closed because of caps imposed by Russian authorities in 2017 on the number of American diplomats allowed to work in the country.

A State Department spokeswoman said that the Mr. Pompeo, in consultation with the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John J. Sullivan, decided to close the two U.S. consulates in Russia to ensure the safety and security of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the country, as well as to streamline the work of U.S. diplomats.

Ten diplomats assigned to the consulates will be reassigned to the embassy in Moscow, according to the State Department notification. Thirty-three staff members who are locally employed will be laid off.

The consulate in Vladivostok has been closed since March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Its permanent closure is expected to save $3.2 million per year, according to State Department estimates.

The consulate closures, reported earlier by The Associated Press, will likely cause major inconveniences for American travelers and Russians in the country’s far-eastern region. All planned consular services — including visa applications and other travel support for Americans in the country — will now be run out of Moscow.

In 2018, Russian officials ordered the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg to close. This was in retaliation for the U.S. decision to close a Russian consulate in Seattle over the country’s reported involvement in the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain.

The exact timing of the closures was not disclosed, and it is unclear if they will happen before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office on Jan. 20.