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Maria Zakharova’s Freestyle Wrestling with the Facts

Polygraph poster - Maria Zakharova, Wrestling
Polygraph poster - Maria Zakharova, Wrestling
Maria Zakharova

Maria Zakharova

Press secretary, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“The issue, however, is that not granting visas to our athletes is a flagrant violation by the United States of its obligations as the state hosting international competitions. We are talking about a direct and overt discrimination against the team of one of the participating nations.”

The U.S. Embassy has not declined visa interviews but advised the team to schedule at a different location for a speedy processing

The short quote in the top section of this fact-check is a part of a much longer statement by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Maria Zakharova. There are several layers of misinformation in her statement, which was published on the ministry Web site. First, she falsely claims that the American embassy declined to organize visa interviews for the Russian freestyle wrestling team planning to visit the U.S. to participate in the World Cup in Iowa City, in the U.S., on April 7-8.

The head of Russia’s Freestyle Wrestling Federation, Valery Feldsherov contradicted her claim. He told the TASS government news agency, that the U.S. Embassy actually advised team members go the U.S. Embassy in Armenia for visa interviews to expedite the processing, due to the shortness of the consular staff in Russia.

“They wouldn’t schedule us for visa interviews, instead recommending that we go for the visa interviews to the consulate in Armenia,” Feldsherov said, adding there was not enough time to do so.

Zakharova also claimed, that “Washington, not us” made a decision, about which of the staff members to reduce, so she called it “yet another excuse” by the U.S. diplomats, and to argue that they are short-staffed is “extremely outrageous.”

The “staff reduction” Zakharova mentions, was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s executive order in July 2017 demanding that the United States reduce their diplomatic staff in Russia from 1,210 people to 455, cutting 755 staffers from the embassy in Moscow and the three consulates in other Russian cities.

Commenting at the time about the measure, Zakharova said that, “no one expelled the Americans” – a claim checked and proved false.

In fact, the issue with visa interview waiting time is widely discussed in the Russian social media. For instance the Russian travel Website has posted a screenshot of the U.S. embassy Webpage, to prove to its clients that the consulate is booked and no interview scheduling is available.

Zakharova also accused the Americans’ of “direct and overt discrimination” against the Russian team – a possibility given what appears to be deteriorating relations between the two countries. However, another Russian sports authority also appeared to contradict the press secretary’s words.

The President of Federation of Freestyle Wrestling of Russia, Mikhail Mamiashvili said in an interview that, the American Wrestling Federation “did everything they could to support us.” He also added that apart from the Russian team, the Kazakhstan team is also experiencing issues with the U.S. entry visas.

“They [Americans] are our brothers, and this misunderstanding will in no way affect our brotherly relations in the future,” Mikhail Mamiashvili said.

The U.S. State Department told VOA, “Visa records are confidential under Section 222(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Therefore, we may not comment on the details of individual visa cases.”

At the time of this publication, the U.S. embassy in Moscow has not responded to’s request for comment.