The leaders of the Senate foreign relations and intelligence committees have asked President Biden to expel 300 Russian diplomats unless their government allows more American representatives in Moscow.
The staffing request comes amid growing tension between the two nations.
Sen. Rubio, @MarkWarner, @SenatorRisch, and @SenatorMenendez sent a letter to @POTUS urging him to take immediate action to increase staffing at the U.S. embassy in #Moscow &, if the Russian Government does not a cooperate, to expel 300 Russian diplomats. https://t.co/flEmZQdbIB
— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) October 5, 2021
For several administrations, the U.S. has accepted Russia’s characterization of local staff at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as “American diplomats.”
According to the State Department, Russia prohibited the U.S. embassy in Moscow from retaining, hiring, or contracting Russian or third-country staff, except for guards, in August. The embassy had to let go of 182 employees and dozens of contractors.
The Moscow Times reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced the staffing cap to limit the number of Russians working for “unfriendly countries.”
“Embassy Moscow will not offer routine notarial services, Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, or renewal passport services for the foreseeable future,” the embassy said in a statement. “Non-immigrant visa processing for non-diplomatic travel will cease.”
It also notes that U.S. citizens with expiring visas should leave the country by June 15 or begin the paperwork to legally stay.
The move was the “latest iteration of a controversy that dates back to former President Barack Obama’s decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats following the 2016 election interference and continued more recently with Biden’s imposition of sanctions over Russia’s 2020 interference and attempted assassination of dissident Alexei Navalny,” reports The Washington Examiner.
The bipartisan expulsion request comes from seventeen bipartisan senators, including Democrats Bob Menendez and Mark Warner and Republicans Jim Risch and Marco Rubio. The senators say Russia’s mandate posed a “substantial national security risk” and severely restricted operations.
There are only 100 U.S. diplomats in Russia compared to 400 Russian diplomats in America.
In a letter to Biden, the senators wrote, “This disproportionality in diplomatic representation is unacceptable. Accordingly, Russia must issue enough visas to approach parity between the number of American diplomats serving in Russia and the number of Russian diplomats serving in the United States.
The senators said expelling the Russian diplomats would be “reasonable and reciprocal.” They urged the President to take “responsible, proportional, and immediate action in response to the provocations undertaken by the Russian Government.”
The White House and State Department have not yet publicly responded to the letter.