The US embassy in Russia has retaliated to the cutting of its diplomatic mission by restricting the issuance of visas to Russians, prompting a swift condemnation by the Kremlin.
A US embassy statement said non-immigrant visas would no longer be issued at the three US consulates in Russia, only at the Moscow embassy from September 1.
The move was seen as a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's angry reaction to the new round of sanctions pushed through by the US Senate, which was to demand the expulsion of 755 US diplomats.
The US embassy said it would stop issuing tourist, business, student, and other visas in the consulates of St Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Vladivostok, while the visa screening interview waiting times would be prolonged to over two months. Priority visa screening will be granted to officials heading to UN offices, family emergencies, participation in court proceedings, and current students in the US, it said.
Belarusian citizens will also be affected, as they will be unable to apply for visas in Moscow, and would have to turn to US embassies in Warsaw, Kyiv or Vilnius instead (visas for Ukraine are not required for Belarusian citizens).
The number of Russians that visited the US peaked at 0.343mn people in the pre-crisis 2014, dropping to 0.253mn peopke in 2016.
"Amercian authors of these decisions have once again attempted to provoke discontent among Russian citizens with the actions of Russian authorities," Russia's top diplomat Sergei Lavrov commented, adding that "this is the logic of those who organise colour revolutions". Lavrov pledged not to "take it out on the US citizens" in retaliation for the US actions.
Unnamed sources of news agency RBC familiar with the situation in the US embassies claim that Russian employees of the US diplomatic mission will have to quit, fearing pressure and persecution from the security services.