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US to close last two consulates in Russia

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has informed members of Congress of its intention to close the last two remaining U.S. consulates in Russia.

In a letter dated December 10, the State Department announced its intention to close the consulate in Vladivostok, a major port city in Russia’s far east, and temporarily suspend operations at the Yekaterinburg consulate, east of the Ural Mountains.

Closing these consulates would leave the United States with a remaining diplomatic outpost in Russia – the Embassy in Moscow – amid heightened tensions between the two countries.

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

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

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

Ten diplomats assigned to consulates will be reassigned to the embassy in Moscow, according to the State Department’s notification. Thirty-three staff who are locally employed will be made redundant.

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

The consulate closures, reported earlier by the Associated Press, are likely to cause major inconvenience for American travelers and Russians in the country’s far eastern region. All planned consular services – including visa applications and other travel assistance for Americans in the country – will now be managed from Moscow.

In 2018, Russian officials ordered the closure of the US consulate in St. Petersburg. This was in retaliation for the US decision to shut down a Russian consulate in Seattle for the country’s reported involvement in the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in Britain.

The exact timing of the closures has not been disclosed and it is not known whether they will occur until President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office on January 20.

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