Diplomatic mission must cut 755; what do all these workers do?
MOSCOW» When Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Sunday that the U.S. Embassy and consulates in Russia would have to cut 755 diplomatic and technical staffers, many people had the same first thought: We have 755 diplomats in Russia for Putin to expel? Doesn’t that seem like a lot?
The answer is yes, that does seem like a lot. Because no, we don’t have 755 diplomats in Russia.
So what is Putin talking about? Altogether, the U.S. government employs more than an estimated 1,200 people in Russia. The majority are hired by the State Department, charged with running the U.S. Embassy and consulates, processing visas and handling other diplomatic tasks. But it also includes employees of dozens of governmental agencies and departments, like the Defense Department, the Agriculture Department, NASA and even the Library of Congress. Collectively, this vast enterprise is often referred to as U.S. Mission Russia or just Mission Russia.
Mission Russia employs an “estimated” 1,200 people because the U.S. Embassy and the State Department have not responded to our requests for data about how many people are employed in this endeavor.
Luckily, the blog Diplopundit had a helpful post Sunday, breaking down the numbers using earlier reports: “In 2013, US Mission Russia (embassy and consulates general) employed 1,279 staffers. This included 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed (LE) staff positions from 35 U.S. Government agencies.”
Those statistics came from a 2013 report put together by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General, which inspects the “approximately 260 embassies, diplomatic posts, and international broadcasting installations throughout the world” to see whether resources are properly allocated to achieve U.S. policy goals.
The full 2013 report contains a wealth of information about who works for U.S. Mission Russia, including a breakdown of how many U.S. and foreign staffers work for each government department and agency. I have included a few thoughts below. There is also a report from 2007 that we’ll use for comparison. One note: The 2013 report gives nationality and department data for only 1,200 of Mission Russia’s 1,279 employees.
The majority of U.S. Mission Russia employees are not Americans and won’t be expelled: Of 1,200 people employed in 2013 in Mission Russia, 333 were U.S. citizens and 867 were designated “Foreign National Staff,” most of them probably Russians. Using the 2013 numbers, if Mission Russia is forced to let go of 755 people, a majority of them would not be U.S. citizens and probably would not be expelled from the country.
Putin said he is seeking parity and wants Mission Russia to employ the same number of people as Russia does in the United States (455 people).
This will hurt Russians: The single largest departmental employer in Mission Russia is the International Cooperative Administrative Support Services, or ICASS, employing 652 people in 2013 (that was a majority of the staff in Mission Russia). Of those 652 people, 603 were foreigners, probably Russians.
What do they do? Mostly administrative services.
Putin’s decision implies that many of them will lose their jobs as the State Department goes through a painful triage process before the Sept. 1 deadline.
The Kremlin often denies access to its own market, whether to supermarket consumers or adoptable children, to strike back at the West. So limiting access to its labor market for the U.S. Embassy is not a total surprise. In fact, in 1986, the Soviet Union banned its citizens from working for the U.S. Embassy, forcing embassy staffers to moonlight as chauffeurs and mechanics.
This will further hurt Russians: This will also probably force the U.S. Embassy and consulates to cut consular staffers, including employees who process visa requests. The result of a further drawdown, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul predicted in a tweet, would be a slowdown in visa turnaround.