SEATTLE -- The closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle is having a major impact on the Russian community in Western Washington. The consulate in the only Russian consulate on the West Coast. With its closure, the next nearest one is in Houston.
Seattle is home to major tech companies, medical research centers and universities that recruit and employee Russian citizens. The Russian citizens who work or study here say they use the consulate to get their passports renewed, or complete other paperwork that will now be more difficult to do with its closure.
Sergey Gladysh moved to the United States from Moscow 18 years ago.
“I’ve visited this consulate many times to get my passport renewed, my friends would visit it to get a Russian visa,” said Gladysh.
He was at the consulate in Seattle on Monday getting a signature on paperwork just before the consulate closed.
“I believe it sends the wrong message to the community on how the U.S. government perceives us. Why would they close down a consulate that’s very helpful to us?" said Gladysh.
Gladysh runs a nonprofit called the Russian-American Cooperation Initiative. He says closing the consulate is a blow to his work trying to better American and Russian relations and helping reduce what he calls “Rus-a-phobia,” the anti-Russian rhetoric that’s rising.
“We had hope, we had hope with Trump in office, relations with U.S. and Russia would improve,” said Gladysh.
He says that hope is hard to see with moves like this.
The Russian consulate in Seattle is important to a lot of people, serving 14 Western states.
Stephen Yates, a former White House deputy national security adviser during the Bush administration, says closing the Seattle consulate will have significant impact on the local community, but globally the impact will be minimal.
“This is more theatrics than substance in terms of impact,” said Yates.
The White House says among other things, the move had to do with the consulate’s proximity to one of the nation’s submarine bases and Boeing.
“The Russian diplomats could be watching what’s going on in our tech firms, in our aerospace industries and as well as our military engagement back and forth,” said Yates.
Yates says it’s hard to know whether the consulate closure and expulsion of diplomats is the main move from the White House to show solidarity with its allies after Russia allegedly poisoned a British spy or whether there will be more to come.
“I don’t think I should be the person affected by it,” said Gladysh.
Either way, Gladysh says, it will have an impact on his community and although he’s disappointed, he’ll find other ways to help the two countries he’s called home get along.
Yates says other countries who have closed consulates have looked for ways to supplement that physical presence with an online presence, but he says that will be more difficult to do in Russia’s case, given the country's recent online meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
He said academic exchange programs could be most impacted by a consulate closure where students go to get visas, and he added international adoptions are another area where difficulties could arise with families looking to adopt Russian children.