Maria Zakharova, an official spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, questioned whether visa problems, which could arise due to the reduction of U.S. diplomats in Russia, are really a bad thing.
Immediately after Russia announced its response regarding U.S. diplomats and U.S. property, Americans began to frighten Russian citizens by complicating and delaying the issuance of American visas. Right? Then let me ask you this: What are hundreds of American overseas personnel doing in Russia? I ask this question aloud not because I don’t know, and I don’t want to step on the toes of my American colleagues. Far from it. And I never would have asked this question if the Americans had not linked the number of personnel with the provision of consular services to Russians. I’m sick of people being cheated. But it’s alright now.
How Many Are There?
We still haven’t heard an official statement from our American colleagues about the precise or approximate number of U.S. diplomatic personnel and consular agencies in Russian territory. And with respect to the public debate about visa requirements, which the United States unleashed, it’s important. The press reports that there are 1,200 diplomats and personnel in Russia deployed from Washington. There’s no official confirmation or denial of this information. For some reason, the State Department has withheld this number. Why? Russia revealed its number – 455 – inviting the State Department to reveal its number of personnel as well.
Linking the reduction in the number of personnel with obtaining visas doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, because the Americans haven’t written, haven’t dictated, and haven’t pointed out who they’ve sent home and who they’ve left in Russia. And if they are determined to reduce the number of people in Washington distinctly involved in visa issues, it will be Washington’s sovereign, deliberate and far-from-forced decision.
The second point: In 2016, American visas were issued to approximately 150,000 Russians, and 102,000 Russian visas were issued to Americans. It would seem that the difference is this: If 1.5-2 times more visas are issued, 1.5-2 times more personnel must be needed. But we have dramatically different approaches to processing visas! So far, I can’t understand why in the 21st century it’s necessary to hold interviews in person to issue visas. Could you imagine voting online in the U.S.? Yet, the most crucial act of choosing a president was able to be influenced over the internet, which they blame us for. Banking operations, the purchase of anything and education can all be done remotely. And in most cases in the U.S., if you are comfortable filling out forms or ordering in person, they tell you that’s so last century, and they send you to the internet. But it’s impossible to issue a visa even when authorities have exhaustive data about the applicant in advance without an interview in person. And this system extends to people known all over the world: actors, singers, politicians, scientists and businessmen — it doesn’t matter. They all need to go through an interview. The face-to-face meetings with those who fill thousands of rooms in the U.S. is especially comical. Why is that? Is it necessary to sing or dance in front of American diplomats to verify one’s identity?
Do You Know the Face of the Enemy?
I really like arguments to the effect that such a clumsy and backward visa system aims to “ensure safety,” to figure out who the enemy is, who are the terrorists, criminals, etc. In order to cut off terrorists, you don’t need to conduct an interview. (I don’t think that a terrorist in an American consulate would crack like a nut under the gaze of an interviewer.) You need to cooperate with special services. And though cooperation fell victim to Obama, in fact, it was very promising. The example of transferring data on Tsarnaev to America is more than indicative.* But the Obama administration didn’t want that information, and similar communications were shut down. The same goes for criminals. Many who are accused by the Russian criminal justice system of financial fraud, corruption and other crimes have felt comfortable hiding in the vastness of the world, even while they are included on Interpol databases. Yet American law enforcement has had no interest in these people.
So, how did American diplomats spend their time in Russia? Is it possible they upgraded their system of issuing visas in a way that speeds up the process? And now (drumroll) listen to this: For the past four to five months, the processing time of American visas grew four to five times. And not only in Russia! If previously the infamous interview was scheduled roughly 10 days after submitting documentation, a recent applicant is now invited six to seven weeks after application!
What could you possibly do for two months with a document? And after these documents are gathered, the data is put into uniform electronic forms. These documents also are not a priority when being scanned.
There’s another important point. Based on information leaked to the American media, the State Department still hasn’t appointed personnel in key positions, including the deputy secretary of state. These positions have not been filled because they haven’t been approved by the Senate. But what’s going on in the Senate and who is the conductor of procedures? You and I know that, even without the help of leaked information, this current president lacks the support of not only Democrats but also Republicans. The process is inefficient.
And Now, Let’s Take a Break
The American diplomats in Russia haven’t engaged in bilateral cooperation in years. It doesn’t exist. Obama’s influence destroyed it. Other than creating democracy in Russia, in the last year, they’ve done nothing. Delegations don't come, economic forums don't take place (at least not in an orderly manner. The State Department doesn’t recommend that business owners make deals in Russia), there’s no rush to send art exhibits from Russia to the U.S. due to a series of lawsuit and the threat of seizing museum collections, and so on and so forth.
Something tells me the builders of democracy in our country have had enough. That’s why all of these reasons for the claim that reducing will be a blow to consulate work are meaningless. And if issuing American visas is further restrained, which is actively being hinted at by sources, it will be a double blow. First, according to Trump, this is another round to sabotage foreign policy decisions. Don’t forget that Hillary Clinton was the secretary of state for four years. Clinton placed everything important, and not just posts, under her authority.
And she did this very successfully, which was proven over the next four years by John Kerry’s tireless attempts to actually get things done. The State Department is completely immersed in the ideology of the Democratic Party.
It is the most important weapon in the losers’ hands, who are eager for instant revenge. They also want to pay off “household loans” taken on during the election, and make risky decisions the lead up to the next election cycle. But in this story, Michael McFaul serves as a speaker on foreign policy issues, providing guidance for political attacks.**
Secondly, visa restraints are another convenient opportunity to troll Moscow, playing another dirty trick on Russians, and blaming it on Kremlin policy
Let’s be frank: If American bureaucrats can’t or don’t want to deal with issuing visas, it’s possible that if they negotiate for the modernization of the next state subsidies, they won’t need to blame Russia. We are ready to hold out a hand to help our colleagues and on this issue, for example, share our experience, because Americans receive our visas after 10 days and without an interview.
*Editor’s note: Tsarnaev is a reference to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted of planting bombs at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, along with his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
**Micahel McFaul is an American academic who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014.