WASHINGTON, January 25 (Sputnik) – The United States withdrew the accreditation of five out of six Russia’s honorary consuls in the country, including those in California, Utah, Minnesota, Florida and Puerto Rico; Moscow is now considering a response to the decision. Only the Russian honorary consulate in the US state of Colorado maintains its status.
"As a private citizen, I hope that the relations between Moscow and Washington will improve. Even during the Cold War, cultural, scientific and academic exchanges were supported by both countries. Nowadays there are many more mechanisms and reasons for cooperation, why not use them?" Kitsul told Sputnik.
Kitsul became the first honorary consul of the Russian Federation in Puerto Rico in 2003 following a two-year long nomination and accreditation process. "First, the Russian Embassy proposes the opening of an honorary consulate to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs concurs, the proposal is sent to the US Department of State. After a positive decision by the US Department of State, a candidate for honorary consul has to go through the same process. Honorary Consuls are the MFA’s representatives, not employees, and serve on a voluntary basis, without getting paid," she said.
The consular department of the Russian Embassy in Washington will carry out the functions of the closed honorary post in Puerto Rico, Russia’s former Honorary Consul to Puerto Rico Anastasia Kitsul told Sputnik.
"But the work will be more difficult — the island of Puerto Rico is Spanish-speaking. Many issues are resolved on the basis of personal presence, and it takes a while to get an answer to a fax or a phone call from outside. In medical emergencies, time is of essence," she explained.
Kitsul, who had served as Honorary Consul for the past 12 years, explained that the role of an honorary consul is apolitical and is primarily focused on protecting the rights of Russian citizens abroad, in close cooperation with local and federal authorities.
In Puerto Rico, such casework included assisting victims of domestic violence, preventing human trafficking, ensuring emergency medical treatment and legal representation. "During the most challenging case of my term as the Honorary Consul, our volunteer lawyer and myself received threats. Both local police and the San Juan office of Diplomatic Security of the US Department of State stepped in to offer protection, and I am very grateful they did."
"If a Russian woman is a victim of domestic violence, American laws provide a safety net, but a foreigner may not know how to use them unless the honorary consul helps navigate the process. If a Russian national is accused of breaking local law, the honorary consul would help ensure that the person has a lawyer and is treated humanely while detained. If a Russian minor is reported missing, the honorary consul would engage both local and federal authorities," said Kitsul. "Ultimately, this work is helpful for both the Russian citizens abroad and the US government," she added.
As reported earlier, according to US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, the United States decided to strip the consuls of credentials in response to what he called "continued Russian interference with our diplomatic and consular operations in Russia."
The activities of formal Russian diplomatic missions in the United States have not been affected, the US Embassy in Russia said.
Russian Embassy spokesman Yuri Melnik told Sputnik on Friday that Moscow is considering a response to the decision by the United States to close the honorary consulates of the Russian Federation in the United States, while Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the US decision was "inadequate."
Honorary consuls can be both citizens of the sending country, or locals. They perform consular services, usually without pay, in locations where career consular offices have not been established. Honorary consuls enjoy limited diplomatic immunity and are tasked with protecting the rights of the citizens of the sending state as well as strengthening humanitarian, cultural and business ties between the two countries.
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