Starting on August 23, the US will suspend the issuance of non-immigrant visas in Russia, and the terms for issuing immigrant visas will be changed. Russia considers Washington's actions to be another step aimed at worsening relations with Russia. Valdai Club expert Pavel Zolotaryov believes that this is far from the end. "It is difficult to predict when we will reach the lowest point and improvements would begin. For now, we need to consider this as a process that has not yet ended," he said in an interview with valdaiclub.com.
The reasoning behind the suspension of the issuance of non-immigrant visas in Russia was measures previously taken by Moscow to reduce the number of American diplomats in Russia. The statement of the US embassy states that "as long as the number of staff of the US diplomatic mission in the Russian Federation remains limited, our activities will be carried out to a limited extent." According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, this decision was made with the aim of provoking discontent with the actions of the Russian leadership among Russian citizens.
"The decision is doubtless partially in retaliation for the Russia decision to cut U.S. staff by 755 to 455 personnel. But it is also a practical decision," Robert Legvold, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Political Science of Columbia University and Director of the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative, noted in a written commentary for valdaiclub.com.
Since the process of issuing US visas for Russian citizens is more labor-intensive than a similar process in the US, the reduction of American personnel in Russia puts “unusual pressure on the Embassy and consulates," Legvold said. "I am sure if and when the staffing numbers are restored, the U.S. consulates—if they remain open—will immediately begin issuing visas," Legvold said.
At the same time, he noted, if Russia takes mirror measures against American citizens, relations between the two countries may deteriorate. "The visa issue need not constrain the ability of the two countries to maintain diplomatic contacts," Legvold added.
Speaking about the possible reaction of Russia to US actions, Pavel Zolotaryov, Deputy Director of the Institute for US and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted that Russia's reaction would most likely be restrained.
"We are interested in improving relations with America. From the very beginning, we tried to maintain a restrained position, expected that the new administration would be able to handle the situation and ride it out," Zolotaryov said.
Although these hopes did not materialize, it should be kept in mind that the intentions to improve relations with Russia with President Trump remain. "One must have patience," Zolotaryov said.
In his opinion, in the future, when the two countries "reach the lowest point," Russia and the United States will inevitably improve relations. However, it is difficult to predict when this will happen. "This is difficult to predict, due to the fact that it largely depends on the internal political situation in the United States," Zolotaryov said. "We are witnessing an interesting stage when US domestic policy has a significant impact on its foreign policy."