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Russia claims US has cut off telephone lines to its New York City consulate

Gustaf Kilander
·4-min read
The Consulate-General of Russia in New York City. (Andrei Deev)
The Consulate-General of Russia in New York City. (Andrei Deev)

The Russian consulate in New York City says its phone lines have been cut and its internet access has been disrupted.

Calls to the two phone numbers listed on the consulate’s website resulted in a beeping tone indicating that the lines were busy or disconnected.

The Consulate General tweeted: "Dear visitors! Since January 18 this year the American side has completely disconnected all city telephone lines of the Russian Consulate General in New York, periodically there are interruptions in Internet access."

Twitter
Twitter

The consulate is encouraging its visitors to contact the office via email instead.

Twitter
Twitter

Sputnik - the Russian state media agency - said that US authorities are citing technical difficulties as the reason for the dead phone lines. This according to a source at the consulate who said that a two-day delay in getting the phone lines back up and working is “unheard of”. The source told the state media agency that all connected phone lines went down at the same time.

The Independent attempted to email the consulate but the message was returned with an error message saying that the server wasn’t available.

This latest saga in US-Russia relations comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised the Russian government for arresting opposition politician Aleksey Navalny upon his return to the country. In a statement, Mr Pompeo said: “The United States strongly condemns Russia’s decision to arrest Aleksey Navalny. We note with grave concern that his detention is the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures and independent voices who are critical of Russian authorities.”

“We urge the Russian government to provide a level playing field for all political parties and candidates seeking to compete in the electoral process. Aleksey Navalny is not the problem. We demand his immediate and unconditional release,” the statement said.

The Trump administration notified Congress in December that it intends to shutter the last two remaining US consulates in Russia.

The State Department told lawmakers on December 10 that it would permanently close the consulate in the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok and temporarily suspend operations at the consulate in Yekaterinburg just east of the Ural Mountains.

The note sent to Congress said the closures are due to caps placed by Russian authorities in 2017 on the number of US diplomats allowed to work in the country.

Following the closures, the only diplomatic facility the US will have in Russia will be the embassy in Moscow. Russia ordered the closure of the US consulate in St Petersburg in 2018 after the US ordered the Russian consulate in Seattle closed in tit-for-tat actions over the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain.

The consulate in Vladivostok had been temporarily closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, and staffers there had already begun removing sensitive equipment, documents and other items. The consulates in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg employ a total of 10 American diplomats and 33 local staff.

The exact timing of the closures has yet to be determined. The American staff are to be relocated to the embassy in Moscow, while the locals will be laid off, according to the notice sent to Congress by the State Department. The department estimated the permanent closure of the Vladivostok consulate would save $3.2 million per year.

The closures will leave the US without diplomatic representation in a massive swath of Russia — everywhere east of Moscow — and present a major inconvenience for American travelers in Russia’s far east, as well as Russians in the region seeking visas to come to the United States, as all consular services will be handled out of the Moscow embassy.

The Independent reported on December 20 that the White House allegedly blocked a statement that would have confirmed Russia was behind a cyberattack on United States government agencies, but that Donald Trump has dismissed.

Mr Pompeo said at the time that Russia was “pretty clearly” responsible for the attack, which is believed to be among the most serious on record.

According to reports, several US government agencies were targeted by the cyberattack, which compromised sensitive information for months, reports suggest.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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