Head of US Embassy in Moscow expelled over US-Russian tensions

The Russian government is waging a diplomatic food battle with the United States and hitting a surprising target: the stomachs of its top diplomats.

Michelle Michalenko, the private chef to the deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Moscow, wrote on Facebook that after 16 years in Russia, her visa was canceled and she was forced to leave the country. .

“Today I wanted to share that due to escalating tensions, the Russian government has put me on a list, along with other diplomats and contractors at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, of people held to leave the country. Our visas have been canceled,” Michalenko wrote on Facebook on Sunday.

“Saying goodbye to my 16-year-old home was overwhelming. Leaving my work kitchen for the last time was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

The move appears to be linked to a Russian government decision in December to force the departure by January 31 of US embassy staff in Moscow who had been in the country for more than three years – amid a longer conflict. wide between Washington and Moscow on diplomatic personnel. .

Diplomatic escalation comes as US rallies allies to deter Russian president Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich PutinThe hidden blessing of China-Russia hostility Former president returns to Ukraine ahead of court hearing McCaul says US withdrawal from Afghanistan has emboldened Russia on Ukraine MORE to launch an invasion of Ukraine. Moscow has positioned more than 100,000 troops on its border with the former Soviet state.

Biden administration officials issued serious warnings that an invasion could be imminent, but stressed their intention to use diplomacy to resolve tensions with Moscow.

A State Department spokesman, when asked about Michalenko’s firing, said he could not comment on a specific individual’s case for confidentiality reasons, but expressed concern about the ability of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to effectively conduct diplomacy with the Kremlin amid staff shortages.

“As we have said, diplomacy is the only responsible way to resolve our differences with Russia. We need to have open channels of communication, especially during times of heightened tension. A functioning embassy is essential to diplomacy and that is why we continue to work hard to resolve this issue,” the spokesperson said.

“We continue to urge the Russian government to engage productively and in good faith in staffing the Mission. We are ready to meet with the Russians to discuss a mutually acceptable way forward. We note that the Russian mission in the United States continues to be considerably more staffed than the American mission in Russia.

Michalenko has been open and complimentary about her time at the US Embassy in Moscow, calling it her “dream job”. during a video interview in 2015 with a Russian cultural news magazine, describing his favorite Russian dishes and his tours around the country.

She has posted pictures on his professional webpage of her alongside senior U.S. officials, including President BidenJoe BidenMacro grid will keep lights on Pelosi suggests filibuster supporters ‘dishonor’ MLK legacy on suffrage Sanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown MORE, former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Russia forced a drastic downsizing of US missions in the country and forced the closure in December 2020 of US consulates in the Russian cities of Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

In July, the Secretary of State Antoine BlinkenAntony BlinkenUS calls on North Korea to end ‘illegal and destabilizing’ missile launches announced that the United States would lay off 200 local employees before an August deadline imposed by the Kremlin banning Russians from working for American missions in the country.

The move was seen as retaliation for President Biden’s decision in April to outline the expulsion of at least 10 Russian diplomats and impose sanctions on dozens of individuals and companies as punishment for the Russian interference in the 2020 election and the SolarWinds software hack, a massive cyber operation that allegedly compromised nine government agencies and, according to an investigation by SolarWinds, nearly 100 of its customers.

In October, a group of bipartisan senators overseeing foreign affairs and intelligence urged Biden to address Russia’s enforced limits on diplomatic personnel in Moscow by taking “responsible, proportionate and immediate action in response to the provocations undertaken by the Russian government”.

Updated at 3:15 p.m.

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