Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses his annual press conference in Moscow, capital of Russia, on Jan. 26, 2016. Russia intends to build relationships with western countries on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, and it will no longer yield to external pressure, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday. (Xinhua/Dai Tianfang)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses his annual press conference in Moscow, capital of Russia, on Jan. 26, 2016. Russia intends to build relationships with western countries on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, and it will no longer yield to external pressure, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday. (Xinhua/Dai Tianfang)

The sharp decrease in the issuance of U.S. visas to Russian citizens is a deliberate move by Washington to exert more pressure on Moscow and will possibly result in the suspension of direct flights between the two countries, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

The official deadline for Russian citizens waiting for U.S. visa interviews was stretched in August 2017 to 85 days and has recently been further extended to 250 days, which makes visa applications “meaningless”, a ministry statement said.

“The visa blockade is built by Washington absolutely consciously and deliberately – as an additional lever of pressure. They purposely lash out on Russian citizens for Russia’s independent course on the international arena by massively ripping off trips within the framework of business, cultural, scientific, just family and friendly ties,” the statement said.

The ministry warned that Moscow cannot even rule out the scenario of Russia and the U.S. facing a suspension of regular flights.

“Aeroflot, the only air carrier that conducts regular flights between Russia and the United States, may be forced to stop them, as the crews are having increasing difficulties with obtaining U.S. visas,” the statement said, adding that in this case international competitions including sports tournaments would be severely affected.

Relations between Russia and the West have deteriorated over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain earlier last month. Moscow and London have been trading accusations of involvement in the attack.

Following the incident, more than two dozens of western countries including the U.S. expelled large numbers of Russian diplomats from their countries. Russia expelled the equal number of foreign diplomats in response. Enditem

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