Zakharova
© Sputnik/Russian Foreign Agency
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova
American embassy workers who have been stationed in Moscow for over three years have been given just weeks to leave the country, Russia's Foreign Ministry has announced, amid a growing row with Washington over diplomatic visas.

Speaking at a briefing on Wednesday, diplomatic spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced that
"by January 31, 2022, employees of the US embassy in Moscow who have been on assignment for more than three years must leave Russia. "We consider the American move to be a clear expulsion and intend to react accordingly."
The news comes after Washington reportedly denied extending the visas of dozens of family members of Russian diplomats based in the US.

She said that "such a game" was started by America's policy decisions, rather than because Russia was eager to break off ties.
"We tried long and hard to reason with them and direct them to some constructive solution to the issue, but they made their choice."
Earlier this week, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Moscow would retaliate over the impasse. The two states have been embroiled in a long-standing spat over the number of diplomats that can be stationed in both countries.

US President Joe Biden revealed last month that the amount of American staff in Russia had dwindled to 120 from 1,200 in early 2017, and said it was hard to continue operations there when limited to just a "caretaker presence."

Washington has also ordered the closure of its consulates across the world's largest country. Earlier this year, citing limits on hiring local staff, the US Embassy in Moscow stopped processing non-diplomatic visas and listed Russians as "homeless nationalities," essentially forcing immigrant visa applicants to travel to third countries, such as Poland.

Russia, however, has questioned why the US representative offices require so many employees to process consular documents.

Zakharova also blasted the move, remarking that US diplomats "have turned a technical procedure, a routine one for the 21st century, into a real hell," and said American envoys "have for many years been destroying the system of consular services in Russia."

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Biden in June for their first bilateral summit since the US leader took office and later discussed normalizing embassy services. Moscow's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, however, said the talks proved fruitless due to American attempts to pressure the Kremlin into agreeing to terms set out by the White House.