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Russian news outlets spread fake story about huge lines outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow

Meduza

A day after U.S. officials announced the suspension all visa services at America’s three consulates in Russia (limiting this activity to the embassy in Moscow), Russian news agencies reported a fake story about long lines outside the Moscow embassy, claiming that Russians were hurrying to submit visa applications for a review process that’s now expected to take as long as six months. Stories about “gigantic” or “long” lines outside the embassy appeared in the state news agency RIA Novosti, Metro, Life, Vesti.ru, Ura.ru, REN-TV, and many other outlets.

Eyewitness reports from outside the embassy, however, show that there was no long line. According to the news agency RBC, seven people were waiting outside the American office at one point in the day, but the line never got any bigger. Responding to the Russian media reports, several journalists went to the embassy, only to learn that there wasn’t actually a line outside.

“A line for visas has formed outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow.”
“A line for visas has formed outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow.”
RIA Novosti / Twitter

The website TJournal discovered that a photograph tweeted by RIA Novosti showing a large crowd outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow is actually from July 22, when Muscovites gathered outside the embassy to pay their respects to Chester Bennington, the frontman for the rock band Linkin Park who died in late July. (The tweet was later deleted, but Meduza retained a copy.)

Russian Senator Alexey Pushkov also promoted the fake story about long lines outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow, claiming in a tweet that Russians showed up en masse to protest American “restrictions on their freedom of movement”:

“The line for visas outside the U.S. embassy is on Washington's conscience, not Moscow's. Outraged people have the right to protest against restrictions on their freedom of movement.”
“The line for visas outside the U.S. embassy is on Washington's conscience, not Moscow's. Outraged people have the right to protest against restrictions on their freedom of movement.”
Alexey Pushkov / Twitter

Commenting on the U.S. visa services cutbacks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Monday, “I can say just one thing at this point: we’re not going to take this out on American citizens,” promising not to retaliate by cutting the visas services offered to U.S. citizens by Russian consulates in America. “So if someone was hoping that this destructive act would be contagious, they miscalculated,” Lavrov added. The foreign minister argued that the “real reason” for the visa services cutbacks is to “incite discontent among citizens with Russia's leadership,” characterizing the U.S. policy shift as a form of political meddling.

On December 29, 2016, the United States imposed sanctions on Russia for Moscow’s alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election. Washington expelled 35 Russian diplomats, accusing them of playing a role in Russia’s supposed meddling. Two embassy properties were also closed down and seized by American officials.

In late July 2017, following another round of U.S. sanctions against Russia, Moscow ordered the United States to reduce the number of its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia to 455 people — the same number of people currently working at Russia’s diplomatic facilities in the U.S. According to Russian officials, this led to the dismissal of more than 700 staff.