The UK government appears to be quietly in the process of removing Russian diplomats from the UK.
The method they are using to do this is by not renewing or issuing new visas to staff at the Russian embassies in London and Edinburgh.
Diplomatic staff, under international law, are able to bypass the normal visa process, and should be issued with automatic visas without delay or hassle. This is how it works all over the world.
The press secretary in the Russian Embassy in London today decided to go public with the dirty tricks campaign by the UK government.
Among the tactics outlined are:
- Stopping extensions of 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.
- Refusing to extend UK visas for other staff members regardless of the requested period, quite arbitrarily.
- A senior diplomat had to depart the UK last month because his visa was not extended.
The Russian Embassy says this is a clear violation of international obligations, in particular, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961.
According to the Vienna Convention, the functions of a member of the mission come to an end only after a relevant notification is served by the sending state (Russia) to the receiving state (UK). 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 UK’s recent imposition of time limits on diplomatic visas, suggests the staff members refused visas are persona non-grata. If not, this is a contravention of Article 9 of the Vienna Convention.
In practice it means this is simply expulsion of Russian diplomats from the UK.
Articles 7 and 10 of the Vienna Convention, stipulate that appointment of a diplomatic agent, with the exception of the head of the mission, does not require the consent of the receiving state (the UK in this case) and is done by notification.
Under Article 25 of the same convention, the receiving state shall accord full facilities for the performance of the functions of the mission.
It can safely be assumed that the “full facilities” mentioned, would, among other things, refer to issuance of relevant documents (like visas) enabling unrestricted entry and departure of diplomatic agents to and from the UK.
Despite the Russian Embassy having made repeated appeals, the illegal actions have been already deployed by the Home Office in coordination with the Foreign Office.
Already, in addition to the senior diplomat who had to return home mentioned above, another diplomat left without being able to be replaced this month, and two further staff members will have to leave for the same reason. The extensions of their visas were made for a measly three months, instead of the more typical one or two years.
One might say that the three month visas was in fact giving semi-permanent staff the opportunity to pack up and tie up their affairs before they leave. It is a de facto expulsion.
The Russian Embassy says it is practically impossible to prepare and process replacement staff members within such a limited period of time. And even if they succeed in doing that, the Embassy has been experiencing the same prolonged delays in issuance of British visas for their new staff members, causing them to be unable to arrive to take up their posts.
The Embassy also incurs substantial financial losses by paying rent for apartments for their staff while they are sitting vacant. Their would-be occupants unable to get diplomatic visas.
The Russian Embassy says that the British authorities, in no uncertain terms have told them that this is their consolidated position, and the intent is to degrade the ability of the Russian Embassy to function as an effective diplomatic mission.
Such action, as well as being illegal under international law, is clearly aimed at diminishing and limiting the Russian diplomatic presence in the UK and a deliberate attempt by the UK to hamper Russian diplomatic work, in clear violation of the Vienna Convention of 1961.
Such an obvious attempt by the British government to wreck – on purpose – the established international order may prove to be a dangerous gamble by the UK in respect of the Russian diplomatic and consular missions. Such action by the UK will undoubtedly sour relations between the UK and Russia.
Other foreign diplomatic missions to the UK may like to take note of what the UK is doing to Russia here. The UK has has difficult relationships with a number of other countries; how long before they start to quietly expel diplomats of countries without just cause and in contravention of international law?
This is all the more noteworthy at this time as Russia is again looking at ways to relax the rules for people getting visas to Russia.
For me that can’t come fast enough, as I am one of many who has not visited Russia this year due to the onerous extra requirements of biometrics involving personal travel to London each and every time.
The current visa regime for Brits to get a visa to Russia needs swift and radical overhaul. It is unfair to subject ordinary travellers to Russia – many with family members in Russia and/or married to nationals – to extra bureaucracy simply as tit-for-tat because our government happens to be extremely foolish.
Russia could use this diplomatic crisis to overhaul the visa system for Brits and demonstrate to the UK that they are bigger than petty squabbles like this.
As a voting Brit, I would urge the UK government to abandon this pettiness, adhere to the Vienna Convention, and let the Russian diplomats back into the UK.
by Stuart Smith. Follow him on Twitter @RussianHQ