For this first @RussiaComplains post, I take a look back at the responses of the Kremlin's Troll factory in London to the de facto expulsion by the UK of Sergei Nalobin and three others, in August of this year. I hope you enjoy (re)reading this as much as I did.
Reply by press-secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the UK to Russian media question on UK’s diminishing Russian diplomatic presence in Great Britain
Question: How do you assess the current bilateral relations between Russia and the UK on the visa track, have you advanced?
Answer: The word “progress” means moving forward. That does not apply to the present picture of our bilateral relationship as the British side is trying to shape it.
Persistence of confrontational rhetoric towards Russia has already entailed a considerable cutback in visas, which means a decrease of tourist, business, cultural exchanges and contacts between people at large. From bad to worse, nothing is off limits to our British counterparts.
The point is that the British side has decided to stop extending diplomatic and official visas for those staff members of the Russian Embassy in London and Consulate General in Edinburgh who stay in their positions over five years, and to extend visas for others regardless of the requested period, quite arbitrarily.
Such a step cannot be considered other than a clear violation of international obligations, in particular, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. According to the Convention the functions of a member of the mission come to an end after a relevant notification is served by the sending state to the receiving state. The Convention does not provide the receiving state with the authority to limit the length of stay, with the exception of cases when a member of a mission is declared persona non-grata or an unacceptable person by the receiving state.
Thus, by implication, the imposition of time limit equals a declaration of a member of the mission persona non-grata, effected in contravention of Art. 9 of the said Convention. In practice it means expulsion. Such a step can be viewed as running counter to Arts. 7 and 10, which stipulate that appointment of a diplomatic agent, with the exception of the head of the mission, does not require consent of the receiving state and is done by notification.
Under Art. 25, the receiving state shall accord full facilities for the performance of the functions of the mission. We proceed from the assumption that “full facilities” mentioned in Art. 25 would, among other things, refer to issue of relevant documents enabling unrestricted entry and departure of diplomatic agents to and from the receiving state.
In spite of our repeated appeals, this British «know-how» has been already deployed by the Home Office in coordination with the Foreign Office. This is evidenced by the fact that our senior diplomat had to depart the UK last month because his visa was not extended, another diplomat left without replacement this month, two staff members would have to leave for the same reason. The extensions of their visas were made for three months instead of one or two years, in other words, that time was given «to pack up». It goes without saying that it is practically impossible to prepare and process a replacement within such limited period of time. And even if we succeed in doing that, the Embassy experiences prolonged delays in issuing British visas for our new staff members who cannot arrive to take up their duty. Besides, we incur substantial financial losses by paying rent for apartments of our staff while they are vacant.
Those attempts of the British authorities, and we have been told that this is their consolidated position, to degrade our ability to function as a diplomatic mission are aimed at diminishing and limiting the Russian diplomatic presence in the UK and to hamper our work in violation of the Vienna Convention of 1961.
Such an obvious attempt by the British side to wreck at its own will the established international order which testifies to a dangerous gamble by the UK in respect of the Russian diplomatic and consular missions. A lot to think about for all foreign diplomatic missions to the UK, which the UK has difficulties with in bilateral relationship.
Russian Embassy comments on Foreign Office spokeswoman’s misleading statement
The Foreign Office made two misleading statements to the Daily Telegraph. It says that "visas for diplomats posted to the Russian Embassy in London are issued in line with arrangements agreed with Russia". The fact is that the bilateral memorandum in force between the two countries on visa issues of 1989 provides for visas for staff members of diplomatic missions to be issued within thirty days. It is not observed by the British side, the average waiting time reaching 5 and a half months.
As to the FCO’s assertion that its «approach to extending visas for Russian Embassy staff in London reflects the arrangements for British Embassy staff in Moscow», there are no bilateral arrangements to that effect whatsoever. We have never heard of the British Embassy in Moscow having problems with extending visas for their staff, but we do encounter those. If the British staffing practice is meant, each sovereign nation is entitled to have its own. All the more so that the squeezing effect is achieved by a combination of discriminatory measures of the British side.
Overall, we are surprised by the British authorities’ petty-mindedness on visa issues with Russia, and can only guess as to what they are seeking. Such attitude is not becoming Britain nor any great power. We do differ on Ukraine with many Western nations, but those differences do not lead to our relations sinking so low. For example, the problem of the «Mistral» contract is amicably resolved with France. Unlike Britain, Germany and France cooperate with us on finding a political solution to the Ukraine crisis. As regards the US, it is an entirely different relationship rooted in our global responsibilities, including maintenance of strategic stability.
There is enough political will in Moscow to maintain decent relations with London, of course, the British Government willing.
Regarding the comment made by the Home Office on issuing visas to the Russian Embassy staff
We have carefully examined the statement of the Home Office concerning the terms of issuing visas for Russian diplomats and other Embassy staff.
In particular, it was said (quoted by "Novosti" news agency) that "diplomats must have right documents to come into UK". Does it mean that the Russian diplomatic and service passports raise suspicions of the British side?
Our main concern, however, is delays in issuing visas for the Embassy staff. The Home Office spokesman, avoiding a direct reply, referred to what was said on entry into UK territory by all Russian citizens, which is "making sure false representations were not used to obtain the visa, and no facts were withheld".
As a result of the practice applied by the British side, the checks of documents submitted by the Russian MFA for employees of the Russian official missions in the United Kingdom takes on average six months. It should be a very "deep" check, indeed, of every employee by the British side, including the Embassy cook, who waited for a visa for 6 months exactly.
Thus, the diplomats and other Embassy staff are forced to leave without replacement, as their visas expire, and the new staff members cannot arrive to replace them, waiting till they are duly "checked up" by our British partners.
In our opinion, such a behavior represents a flagrant violation by the British side of the international obligations, first of all under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. It also means that the Embassy’s employees are being de-facto squeezed out of the country, thus creating problems in our work. The use by the British side of such "pincer tactics" is regrettable – whatever the official explanation given.
© 2015 Andrew Aaron Weisburd