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Bolshoi prima ballerina refused US visa

A prima ballerina at Russia’s Bolshoi Theatre has been refused a US visa, Russian agencies said Thursday, weeks after a round of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions led to a reduction in embassy staff numbers.

Olga 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.

“We are very disappointed with this decision which is the same type of visa we ask for and receive each time for our artistes,” organiser Eve Hodgkinson said.

The Bolshoi said it believed the refusal could be due to a “technical problem” and that it had not been possible to issue the visa in time.

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.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement it was “perplexed” by the consul’s comments and accused Washington of having “deliberately fabricated” the visa situation as an “additional lever” to put pressure on Moscow.

Russian officials earlier criticised the failure of the US to issue visas to Russian team members for the Freestyle Wrestling World Cup in Iowa.