A source in Russia's foreign ministry has told journalists there is no draft agreement on ending a row with the US over diplomatic visas, contrary to claims in the American media.
The two countries remain in a deadlock, with Washington reportedly refusing to meet Moscow halfway. A Russian diplomatic source revealed to RIA news agency that all of Moscow's suggestions communicated to American colleagues had been met with silence. Speaking of the possibility that the visa row would be brought up during the upcoming video conference between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, the unnamed diplomatic source said that the two leaders probably had "more important questions" topping their agenda.
Echoing these messages, Russia's ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, told reporters on Friday that he was not aware of any "breakthroughs." He also suggested "nullifying" all existing mutual sanctions affecting the work of Russian and American diplomats so as to "let them do their job."
These latest statements by Russian officials run counter to a report published by The Washington Post on Friday which claimed that the two countries had struck a tentative draft agreement on resolving the issue during talks in Vienna on November 17. Based on information obtained from an anonymous US official, the article also alleged that diplomats from both sides would be meeting this month to "finalize" the "breakthrough" deal.
Over the past few years, Moscow and Washington have targeted each other's diplomatic staff with tit-for-tat expulsions and restrictions, prompting the closure of Russia's consulates in San Francisco and Seattle, and its trade mission in Washington. In the process, some of Russia's diplomatic property has been seized - despite the Vienna Convention, which grants immunity from such actions, as Moscow has pointed out. Dozens of diplomats have been expelled from both countries in the meantime, with Russian authorities also banning the US embassy in Moscow from hiring local employees. This decision in May this year left the American diplomatic mission badly shorthanded, with a bare minimum of 120 personnel working for it. In August, the US embassy announced it would no longer be able to issue visas.
And as recently as this Wednesday, Russia's Foreign Ministry ordered a number of US Embassy staff out of the country by January 31. This decision, which applies to diplomats who have been working in Russia for more than three years, mirrors Washington's move last week to give the boot to Russian diplomatic personnel who have exceeded the same new three-year limit.