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Leonid Bershidsky

Travel Barriers Are the Worst of the New Cold War

Why is the U.S. squandering its soft-power advantage on petty tit-for-tat?
Golden gates.

Golden gates.

Photographer: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The latest loop in the escalation of U.S.-Russia hostilities is probably the dumbest and the most damaging: The two countries are introducing de facto travel restrictions for each other's citizens, choking off the friendliest, most human channel of communication between them. It's the biggest step back into the Cold War era that the two governments have taken yet.

The State Department has stopped issuing visas in Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St. Petersburg, a response to Russian demands for drastic cuts in U.S. diplomatic mission based in the country. In 2016, those three posts combined issued 46,243 visas, about a third of the turnover of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, now the only visa-issuing office in Russia. The decision effectively ends all non-essential travel to the U.S. from the Russian hinterland, and even from St. Petersburg, the country's second city. Most travelers will end up picking a different destination rather than travel to Moscow for a consular interview.