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U.S. makes another move in diplomatic row with Russia

President Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017.

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. will suspend non-immigrant visa operations in Russia from Wednesday, the State Department has confirmed. The move is in retaliation for Russia's demand that the U.S. slash its diplomatic personnel in Russia by 755 people, after the U.S. passed new sanctions against Moscow last month.

The halt in processing visas for Russians hoping to visit the U.S. will last eight days at consular offices in Moscow and for the foreseeable future at the other U.S. consulates in the country. Visa appointments scheduled during that time will be cancelled.

The U.S. Mission in Russia said it was taking the measure due to "departures and staff reductions" implemented to meet Russia's September 1 deadline for the contraction of American personnel in the country.

"We will operate at reduced capacity for as long as our staffing levels are reduced," a fact sheet posted only by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow states. "Russia's decision to reduce the United States' diplomatic presence here calls into question Russia's seriousness about pursuing better relations."

Exceptions will be made for diplomats and the official travel of Russian government officials. There will also be a block of visas made available for students in early September.

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in the Philippines and told him a U.S. decision on staffing would come by September 1.

While the two countries are trying to work together in some realms, Tillerson said he was trying to get Russia to understand "how seriously" the Russian hacking into the U.S. election "damaged" relations between Washington and Moscow. At that time he described the relationship as "pragmatic."

On Monday, Lavrov said the Russian government would "study" the decision made by the U.S. regarding visa processing, but added that Russia would not react in a way that would impact U.S. citizens.

President Trump mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin when Russia ordered the U.S. to cut its personnel level in the country, suggesting it would save the American government money.

"I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down on payroll, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll," Mr. Trump said to reporters. "We'll save a lot of money."