Russia condemns US visa restrictions in diplomatic tussle

US consulate in St Petersburg Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Russian-US tensions have been likened to Cold War-era distrust

Russia has condemned a US decision to make Russians go to Moscow if they want a visa for the United States.

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.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was an attempt to provoke discontent among Russians towards their own government.

Last month Moscow told the US to cut 755 of its diplomatic staff in Russia.

The US embassy said that, in connection with Russia's instruction to cut staff at US diplomatic missions to 455, US consulates in Russia would stop issuing non-immigrant visas for an indefinite period, from 23 August.

The US has consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

Most of the 755 US staff slated to go are "local hires", so they will not have to leave Russia. The Kremlin says it is merely telling the US to have the same staff level as Russia's in the US.

There has been a diplomatic freeze between Russia and the US since Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

Grudge against Obama

While condemning the visa move, Mr Lavrov said Russia would not retaliate against Americans requesting Russian visas.

"Their logic is well known - the logic of those who organise 'colour revolutions' - and it is the inertia of the Obama administration, pure and simple," he said.

President Donald Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, declared 35 Russian diplomats persona non grata in December. That was linked to allegations of Russian collusion with the Trump team, seen to have helped swing the presidential election in Mr Trump's favour.

Mr Trump and his aides have shrugged off their contacts with Russians, denying the claims of political collusion.

Mr Lavrov's reference to "colour revolutions" expressed the Kremlin's belief that US meddling fuelled Georgia's Rose Revolution in 2003 and Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004. Both movements swept pro-Western leaders into power, in ex-Soviet republics.

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