United States halts non-immigrant visas in Russian Federation as diplomatic standoff deepens

US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg Germany

MOSCOW-The U.S.is sharply cutting back visa services in Russian Federation after the Kremlin responded to fresh U.S. sanctions by capping the number of U.S. diplomats in the country.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

In response, President Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S. Embassy to cut 755 positions in the country - roughly two-thirds - by September 1.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected the US explanation that it was forced to suspend visas because of reduced staffing levels.

The U.S. will suspend all nonimmigrant visa operations across Russian Federation on Wednesday, its embassy in Moscow said on Monday. 1 but remain suspended at its consulates in Yekaterinburg and Vladisvostok indefinitely.

"The American authors of these decisions have come up with another attempt to stir up discontent among Russian citizens about the actions of the Russian authorities".

Asked about a possible Russian reaction, Lavrov said Russia will "study" the embassy's announcement, adding that unlike the US government Russia "is not going to take it out on USA citizens".

While condemning the visa move, Mr Lavrov said Russia would not retaliate against Americans requesting Russian visas.

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It showed that wait times for visitor visa appointments at the Moscow embassy had risen from 50 days to 70 days between August 2 and August 19, and from 17 days to 44 days at the consulate in St. Petersburg in the same time period. In written comments to the Moscow Times, the International Visa Center said the announcement meant the outcomes of 19 applications were now up in the air.

The U.S. Embassy in Russian Federation said Moscow's decision to slash its staff called into question Russia's sincerity about pursuing better relations.

It added that in September it was planning to issue a block of visa appointments to students studying in the U.S.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S.to cut its diplomatic staff by 755 people after Congress imposed sanctions on Russia as punishment for election meddling and foreign military interventions.

U.S. Congressional committees and a special counsel are investigating the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian Federation used hacking and other methods to help Trump beat Hillary Clinton in last November's election.

The US issued around 150,000 visas to Russian citizens a year ago, according to the Russian foreign ministry.

They are also looking into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.

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