‘On the Verge of Sadism’: Moscow Slams State Dept as US Classifies Russians ‘Homeless Nationality’
14:06 GMT 24.10.2021 (Updated: 14:39 GMT 24.10.2021)
The latest spat comes amid the ongoing slide in Russia-US relations, which has been accompanied by the expulsion of hundreds of diplomats from each country, the closure of consulates, and the seizures of diplomatic properties.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has accused the US of turning “a technical procedure that’s banal in the 21st century into a real hell – at the heart of which is mockery on the verge of sadism” – after the State Department listed Russians as a "homeless nationality."
“For many years, US diplomats have worked to destroyed a system rendering consular services in Russia which they did not create. They closed down consulates, reduced the number of consular staff, experimented with how our symmetrical response differs from a mirror response. Can it really be that among the apologists of this dirty strategy no one has thought about the fact that they are destroying their own ideals of freedom?" the spokeswoman asked.
Zakharova suggested that the listing will not only hurt tourism and cultural exchange but serve as a blow to families with members living in the two countries.
Her comments follow a move by the State Department to list Russians as a “homeless nationality” alongside other countries with which the US has little to no relations and those which have turned into failed states in a document detailing guidelines in the processing of Immigrant Visas (IVs).
“Generally, a homeless visa applicant is one who is a national of a country in which the United States has no consular representation or in which the political or security situation is tense or uncertain enough that the limited consular staff is not authorised to process IV applications,” an explanatory note in the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual and Handbook website says.
Along with Russians, other “homeless nationalities” include Cubans, Eritreans, Iranians, Libyans, Somalis, South Sudanese, Syrians, Venezuelans, and Yemenis. Citizens of each of these nations have their immigrant visa applications processed at US embassies and diplomatic facilities in other countries – with Warsaw, Poland listed in Russia’s case.
The update to the immigration processing manual appeared on 21 October, with no formal explanation provided.
In mid-April, the Biden administration expanded anti-Russian sanctions and expelled ten Russian diplomats, prompting Moscow to retaliate in kind and to ban Russian nationals and the citizens of third countries from working at the US Embassy in Moscow.
The move prompted the embassy to reduce its staff to 120 and to lament that it could no longer provide consular services in full. Moscow emphasised that its cap on the number of American diplomats at the embassy was set at 455 people and that it would not object if Russian employees were replaced with American nationals.
Russian social media users for the most part don't seem too upset about the restrictions associated with the "homeless nationality" designation. “Why would Russians go to the Russophobic USA – Russia is so huge,” one Twitter user quipped. “I don’t know who they’re arranging these difficulties for. I will never travel to this dumpster even if someone paid me,” another wrote. “Finally! Let the true patriots return to the motherland,” a third wrote. “Alright. But then make it so that Americans come into Russia through Sevastopol, [Crimea],” another jested.
However, some others seemed genuinely upset by the designation and its implications, with one user complaining
that Russia has been listed among other "third world countries," and others lamenting
that it would make getting visas for ordinary people more difficult.
The Russian-US back-and-forth drama of diplomatic expulsions began in late 2016, when then-President Barack Obama kicked out 35 Russian diplomats and ordered the shutdown of two Russian-owned recreational compounds ‘in retaliation’ to alleged Russian election meddling. Moscow did not retaliate after the incoming Trump administration urged it not to do so. However, in mid-2017, after Donald Trump signed off on a new sanctions bill, Moscow responded by ordering the US diplomatic mission to reduce its staff by 755 people. A month later, Washington ordered the closure of Russian diplomatic annexes in New York City and Washington, and a consulate in San Francisco. In 2018, after Britain accused Russia of poisoning an ex-spy, the Trump administration expelled 60 more Russian envoys and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle, prompting Moscow to respond by kicking out 60 US officials and closing the US consulate in St. Petersburg. The State Department then shut down its consulates in Ekaterinburg and Vladivostok.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of senators urged Biden to expel 300 more
Russian diplomats from the US if Moscow did not issue more visas for Americans representing Washington in Russia.