An announcement made last week to slam on the diplomatic brakes, by closing two of our consulates in Russia, makes more sense in light of the recent hack attack on critical U.S. government agencies. China still can’t be ruled out but on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disclosed that Russia is the prime suspect.
Two Consulates closed in Russia
In a notice dated December 10, President Donald Trump’s administration informed Congress that the United States will be closing both consulates in Russia. Mike Pompeo’s State Department “intends to close the consulate in Vladivostok and suspend operations at the consulate in Yekaterinburg.”
A diplomatic official known as a “consul” is appointed to “live in a foreign city and protect and promote the government’s citizens and interests there.” The job of a U.S. Consulate is to protect and assist Americans.
Once the two outposts are gone, the only diplomat left in Russia will be the Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Tensions are raging high right now with Joe Biden claiming a tainted victory and news of a major cyber espionage operation which successfully infiltrated critical U.S. agencies.
The media pounced on an opportunity to blame the Kremlin without a shred of hard evidence. President Trump continues to believe that China at least had a hand in it. So far, the only solid confirmation of Russian involvement comes from Secretary Pompeo, and that is a vague one liner. “I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”
The State Department didn’t say a word about hacking in the official statement regarding the consulate closures. Instead they cite they are taking “these steps in response to ongoing staffing challenges for the U.S. Mission,” also noting the “2017 Russian-imposed personnel cap on the U.S. Mission and the resultant impasse with Russia over diplomatic visas.”
A spokesperson confirmed the news. Ambassador John Sullivan was in on the decision “as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the safe and secure operation of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Russian Federation.”
Advance our foreign policy interests
The folks who move in diplomatic circles are experts at saying not much and saying it well. “The Department’s decision on the U.S. consulates in Russia was taken to optimize the work of the U.S. mission.”
That sounds like a good thing. “The resulting realignment of personnel at U.S. Embassy Moscow will allow us to advance our foreign policy interests.” And do it “in the most effective and safe manner possible.” Reading between the lines that means consolidating forces and hunkering in the bunker.
As of right now, Russia has no plans for retaliatory closures. “No action related to the Russian consulates in the United States is planned,” The spokesman relates. Per the official notice to Congress, “10 U.S. diplomats assigned to the consulates will be reassigned to the embassy in Moscow and the 33 locally employed staff will be laid off.”
Once the formal “notification procedure” is complete, “with support from Embassy Moscow,” the officials “plan to begin procedures to remove all sensitive material from the consulate, including computer equipment and controlled consular material.”
Americans traveling in Russia don’t have to worry about the loss of services. The State Department told inquisitive lawmakers that “the planned closure would not adversely affect the Mission’s ability to advance core U.S. national interests, assist U.S. citizens, or to conduct adequate oversight of programs because all of those functions would continue to be performed by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.”