The United States plans to shutter its last two consulates in Russia, leaving the embassy in Moscow as its only diplomatic outpost in the vast nation, the Trump Administration told members of Congress last week.
The closure of US offices in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg is a reaction to coronavirus restrictions, the State Department said — not to new charges that Russia may be responsible for the SolarWinds hack that has the federal government reeling.
Notice of the pullback was sent to Congress on Dec. 10, three days before the massive computer incursion was publicly revealed.
The new action “was taken to optimize the work of the US mission in Russia,” a State Department official told CNN Friday. Ten American diplomats who serve in the two consulates will be reassigned to Moscow — and 33 local employees will be laid off.
Diplomatic staffing in Russia has been an ongoing problem for the administration in the wake of a personnel cap that Vladimir Putin’s government imposed in 2017 in response to US sanctions in the wake of charges of Russian election meddling.
But the massive cyberattack on US computer systems, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has pinned on Moscow, may put the closures in a new light.
“I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity,” Pompeo said Friday.
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