Why are there so many US diplo­mats work­ing in Rus­sia?

Muscat Daily - - OPINION - Tara McKelvey

Hun­dreds of peo­ple work for the US in Moscow and other Rus­sian ci­ties. What are they all do­ing there?

Over the week­end Rus­sia Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin said that the US had to re­duce its diplo­matic staff in the coun­try by more than 750 peo­ple.

It was a star­tling devel­op­ment in US-Rus­sia re­la­tions, ex­pos­ing ten­sion be­tween the two coun­tries that arises from new sanc­tions im­posed on Rus­sia, and sus­pi­cions about med­dling in the US elec­tion.

For many it also raised a ques­tion: Why are so many peo­ple work­ing at the US Em­bassy in Moscow and in other places around Rus­sia? By some es­ti­mates, there are 1,200 US state em­ploy­ees in the coun­try.

The num­ber seems high - at first glance. Yet it makes sense for those who are work­ing at the White House.

Amer­i­cans and Rus­sians have im­por­tant ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion: They’re work­ing to­gether to com­bat mil­i­tant groups, as­sure the se­cu­rity of nu­clear weapons in both coun­tries, and re­duce vi­o­lence in Syria.

Be­sides that, the US ex­ports bil­lions of dol­lars worth of prod­ucts to Rus­sia every year.

But they also fight about things: Aside from the con­tro­versy over elec­tion med­dling, they’re try­ing to work out is­sues such Rus­sia’s ter­ri­to­rial ambi- tion and its ex­pan­sion in the re­gion.

US of­fi­cials say that mon­i­tor­ing Rus­sia’s ac­tiv­i­ties and keep- ing abreast with the dif­fer­ent as­pects of the re­la­tion­ship re­quires a lot of sup­port in Moscow.

To that end, Amer­i­cans in Rus­sia are in­volved in a va­ri­ety of un­der­tak­ings - in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions. Most work in Moscow, but some are em­ployed in of­fices in Vladi­vos­tok, St Peters­burg and Yeka­ter­in­burg.

In Moscow and the other ci­ties, Amer­i­cans process visa ap­pli­ca­tions for Rus­sians who want to travel to the US.

In ad­di­tion, they write ca­bles to of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton about hu­man rights, labour and other mat­ters.

Some of them work on agri­cul­tural, sci­en­tific and pub­lichealth ini­tia­tives that, for ex­am­ple, help to pro­tect rare wildlife and com­bat in­fec­tious dis­eases. Some work in Rus­sia for other gov­ern­ment agen­cies, as the CIA and US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies are eu­phemisti­cally known.

The num­ber of peo­ple in Rus­sia who are em­ployed by the US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies is sub­stan­tial, although specifics are unavail­able.

Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s Angela Stent, who used to work as a na­tional in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, laughed at the ques­tion.

“No­body knows that,” she said.

Still most of the peo­ple who work at the em­bassy and in other US of­fices in Rus­sia are not spies or spy­mas­ters; most, in fact, are not even US cit­i­zens. They’re Rus­sian.

Of the 1,279 peo­ple who worked at the em­bassy in 2013, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 in­spec­tor gen­eral re­port, 934 were lo­cally hired.

The Rus­sian staff help to or­gan­ise events, process visas, fix com­put­ers and oth­er­wise keep the place run­ning. For them, Putin’s an­nounce­ment was trou­bling.

“These peo­ple will lose their jobs,” said Yu­val We­ber, a fel­low at the Wil­son Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton.

It also means that Rus­sians will have a harder time get­ting visas for their trips to the US: At this point, he said, it takes two to five weeks for them to get a visa. With a re­duced staff, it will take longer.


This De­cem­ber 30, 2016 file photo shows Rus­sian po­lice­men stand­ing guard in front of the US Em­bassy in Moscow. Vladimir Putin said on July 30 this year that 755 US diplo­mats must leave his coun­try

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