The United States has announced that it will close its last two consulates in Russia as relations remain tense after the Russian Federation's massive cyberattack on numerous American government agencies and businesses. Though the two consulates will close, the official embassy in Moscow will remain.
According to Radio Free Europe, the two locations that will be shutting down include Vladivostok in the Far East and Yekaterinburg, which is the Eurasian country's fourth-largest city. Meanwhile, Russian consulates in the United States will remain open and unaffected, though several consulates in locations such as Houston and San Francisco were ordered to close in 2017 in retaliation for Moscow's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The recent decision was made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador John Sullivan. A State Department spokesperson claimed that the move was necessary "as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the safe and secure operation of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Russian Federation."
Though some diplomatic workers will be stationed in other places following the closures, others will be moved to the official Embassy in Moscow "to advance our foreign policy interests in Russia in the most effective and safe manner possible."
Congress was notified about the decision just days before the public was made aware about the major breach of internet security that is strongly suspected to have originated in Moscow. The hacking operation, which one lawmaker tweeted could be considered a cyber version of "Pearl Harbor," has created a fresh diplomatic crisis between the two countries. President-Elect Joe Biden's team is reportedly mulling over how to react to the hack, with options ranging from sanctions to a counter cyber-attack, per Reuters.
In light of the tense relationship, many foreign policy experts have noted that closing down consulates might be one of the worst courses of action, as it will likely weaken American presence and outreach in a country that could be open to better relations.
"Hard to understand logic of this. Important to know what is happening outside of capital in country that spans 11 time zones," noted Steven Pifer, a former State Department official focused on U.S. relations with the former Soviet Union and Europe.
"The U.S. should be seeking ways to engage more directly with Russian society. These consulates help," echoed Michael McFaul, a former American ambassador to Russia.
Meanwhile, while Pompeo has blamed the Russian Federation for the attack, President Donald Trump appeared to take a different view and publicly contradicted his cabinet member by suggesting that China might actually be to blame, per The Inquisitr.