Moscow slams US for refusing Bolshoi prima ballerina visa

Russian dancer Olga Smirnova, seen here performing in "La Belle" (The Beautiful One) in Monaco in 2016, has reportedly been denied a US entry visa

The Russian foreign ministry on Saturday slammed the US for refusing an entry visa to a prima ballerina at the country's Bolshoi Theatre.

"It did not come to this even during the Cold War. On the contrary, the arts, including ballet, always helped us to understand each other better," the foreign ministry said.

"However, today influential forces in the US interested in pressuring Russia as much as possible do not stop at anything," it added.

The foreign ministry blamed the US for arts exchanges between the two countries being called off.

"They are trying to fence Americans off from Russians with a visa wall, making trips to the US for our citizens practically impossible," the statement said.

Russian agencies this week reported Olga Smirnova, a prime ballerina at the Bolshoi, had been refused a US visa, weeks after a round of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions led to a reduction in embassy staff members.

Smirnova and another Bolshoi dancer, Jacopi Tissi, were due to perform at the Lincoln Center in New York on Monday, but were refused a work visa by the US Department of Immigration, the Ria Novosti news agency said.

Smirnova is a rising star at the world renowned ballet company, who made her name in Russia with lead roles in ballets such as Swan Lake.

The US embassy in Moscow has been drastically reduced in strength since the diplomatic expulsions, the first of which were announced by Britain in mid-March.

They followed the poisoning in Britain of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia as well as accusations of Russian interference in last year's US election.

The US consul in Russia, Lawrence Toby, said in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper on Thursday that the issuing of emergency visas to Russian athletes and pilots could no longer be guaranteed due to lack of staff.

According to the newspaper, the time required to secure a US visa in Moscow is currently 250 days and it is impossible to register for a new appointment before the end of the year.

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