MOSCOW — Russia appears to be taking aim at a school that educates the children of foreign diplomats by denying visas to 30 incoming American members of staff, or about a fifth of the faculty, the U.S. and British embassies said Wednesday.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the teachers should not receive visas in specially issued diplomatic passports as the school is a commercial enterprise and not part of the U.S. Embassy.
“American diplomats are glossing over the truth,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.
Nestled in a forested Moscow suburb, the English-language school was set up by the U.S., British and Canadian governments in 1949 and is managed as a nonprofit organization with embassy representatives from all three countries on the school board.
For years, American teachers at the Anglo-American School have arrived on diplomatic visas in diplomatic passports. There did not appear to be any similar visa blocks on teachers from other countries.
The move by Russia could have a major effect on the school’s survival.
“With a reduced number of teachers, school leadership may need to reallocate teaching responsibilities and look at the possible disenrollment of some new and returning students,” U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. said in a statement, saying the school was in touch with parents and teachers about possible implications.
“Children should not be used as pawns in diplomatic disputes,” Huntsman added.
The State Department said in a statement, “The Russian government has a long-standing requirement that Anglo American School teachers travel to Russia on diplomatic visas. Similarly, teachers at the Russian Embassy in Washington travel to the United States on diplomatic visas.”
Moscow suggested that the visa spat could be part of a larger diplomatic skirmish with Washington.
“We stand ready to issue visas to all employees of U.S. diplomatic missions in our country, including schoolteachers, as promptly as possible . . . provided that Washington acts the same way with regard to Russian personnel,” Zakharova said.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow is operating with a sharply reduced staff, after the Russian government ousted more than half of its personnel two years ago. That move, directed by President Vladimir Putin, was in response to U.S. sanctions slapped on Russia for its role in the conflict in Ukraine and election interference. As a result, ordinary Russians have faced waits of almost a year to receive U.S. visas.
The expulsions continued last year, with tit-for-tat moves by diplomatic missions on both sides.
Former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, whose children attended the Anglo-American School while he served as envoy from 2012 to 2014, called the visa denials “cruel.”
“I get that people like me might be targeted in the sanction wars. But children should never be dragged into these foreign policy disagreements,” McFaul told The Washington Post.
The Anglo-American School teaches 1,100 students from prekindergarten to high school, mostly the children of diplomats posted to Moscow but also wealthy Russians. Sixty countries are represented in the student body, which follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum.
The school was expecting the new cohort of teachers to arrive next month ahead of its Aug. 20 reopening for the new academic year.
The school has found itself in the firing line before when tensions between Washington and Moscow have spiked.
In 2016, CNN reported that the Kremlin planned to shut down the school in retaliation for the sanctions, imposed under President Barack Obama. The Foreign Ministry denied the report, and Putin invited the school’s students to visit the enormous Christmas tree in Red Square.