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US to shutter its two remaining consulates in Russia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Following the closure of the US Consulates in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg, the US Embassy in Moscow will be the only American diplomatic outpost in Russia.

The Trump administration has informed Congress of its plan to shut down the two remaining US consulates in Russia amid heighted tensions with Moscow.

The State Department will shutter its consulate in Vladivostok and suspend operations at one in Yekaterinburg, officials said on Friday.

The closures would leave the US embassy in Moscow as Washington’s only diplomatic outpost in Russia.

According to the congressional notice, 10 US diplomats working in the consulates will be reassigned to the embassy in Moscow and the 33 locally employed staff will be laid off.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo consulted with Ambassador John Sullivan before deciding to implement the changes.

A State Department spokesperson said the move is part of Washington’s “ongoing efforts to ensure the safe and secure operation of the US diplomatic mission in the Russian Federation.”

“The resulting realignment of personnel at US Embassy Moscow will allow us to advance our foreign policy interests in Russia in the most effective and safe manner possible.”

“No action related to the Russian consulates in the United States is planned,” they added.

The notice to Congress follows the revelations this week that multiple US federal agencies and private companies were targeted in a massive and ongoing cyberattack.

FireEye, a major American cybersecurity company with extensive government contracts, first revealed the hack earlier this month.

US officials suspect that the sophisticated computer breach, which lasted for months, has been carried out by Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR.

Pompeo on Friday accused Russia of being behind the hack.

“I can't say much more as we're still unpacking precisely what it is, and I'm sure some of it will remain classified," Pompeo said in an interview with Mark Levin Show. “This was a very significant effort, and I think it's the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”

According to the notice, the State Department views the closures as a tit-for-tat response to a 2017 decision by Moscow to impose a personnel cap on the US mission and the pursuant visa impasse with Russia.

It is not known when the State Department will complete the closures or whether they will be finalized before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

Biden has said that his administration will respond if Russia is deemed responsible for the cyberattack. A source close to the president-elect said those measures will include, but not be limited to sanctions.


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