History and Background – U.S. Consulate General in Yekaterinburg

Following the Cold War, the United States initiated a policy of engagement with the new Russian Federation. A key component of that policy was expanding contacts in Russia’s heartland beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg. The country’s vast regions, which span 11 time zones, were becoming more important as Russia’s democratization and decentralization unfolded.

The Urals and Western Siberia regions in central Russia would clearly play a key role in the country’s future. Their territory was larger than the U.S. east of the Mississippi and home to 25 million people. Economically, the Urals and Western Siberia were rich in natural resources and a center of industry. Politically, they were among the nation’s leaders in reform. President Yeltsin and many of Russia’s other leading democrats got their political start there.

Because of its concentration of defense-related industries, most of the Urals were closed to foreigners for decades during the Cold War. Most residents could not travel abroad, so contact with foreigners and western ideas was very limited. In 1992, thanks to lobbying efforts by local leaders, the Russian Federation opened the area to foreigners and outside investment. The United States was at the forefront of Western efforts to establish contacts there.

In 1994, the late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown opened the U.S. Consulate General in Yekaterinburg, the first diplomatic mission in central Russia since World War II. Yekaterinburg was chosen because it is Russia’s third or fourth largest city, an industrial center and a major transportation hub. In 1996, Hungary established a permanent trade mission in Yekaterinburg and, one year later, the United Kingdom opened its own consulate. Dozens of foreign companies followed suit and have opened offices in the city.