"The rumors have been flying for days," said the embassy staffer, "even talk of an airlift. I don't know what's going on." It's the "who's going home" rumor the biggest thing to hit the US Embassy in Moscow since the fire that gutted two floors in 1977.
It is all connected with the US displeasure over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the overall worsening of detente.
Before Mr. Carter announced his retaliatory measures, it was reported he might order home some Soviet diplomats from Washington and call back an equal number of Americans from Moscow. This is a diplomatic technique used to express extreme displeasure.
In fact, the President said only that there would be no more consulates opened. Sources here say he still has the option of reducing staffs, however.
No decision has yet been taken, it is understood. The embassy, at Washington's urging, has counted heads and updated its lists of those who carry diplomatic passports (161) and those who don't (35 marine guards, school and medical personnel).
In contrast, the Soviet Embassy in Washington has 170 diplomats, seven school and medical personnel, and 156 others drivers, cooks, cleaners, and other support staff.
The US Embassy in Moscow employs about 200 Soviet citizens to do those jobs a practice some here believe poses a potential security risk.
Even if Mr. Carter does want to reduce embassy staffs, he might choose to aim at nondiplomats only. One option would be to order as many as one-third of the 156 Soviet nondiplomats home, and to reduce the 200 local employees here by the same number. This would hit support services in Moscow from the garage to electrician to carpenters.
The Carter option with the biggest impact would be to order Soviet (and thus American) diplomats home.
In that case, the crunch would come when actual names had to be selected. Some would be glad to go, others would want to stay. Personal plans would be affected, from houses to school for the children.