Putin retaliates over looming US sanctions

Posted at 6:26 PM, Jul 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-30 18:26:59-04

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed Sunday the staff at US diplomatic missions in Russia will be cut in response to a sanctions bill the US Congress passed last week.

Russian state media quoted Putin saying 755 out of “a thousand or so” employees will “have to stop their activities in the Russian Federation.” That includes diplomats and technical workers, he said.

The Russian President sought to reduce the number of US diplomats operating in Russia to 455, a figure equal to the number of Russian diplomats in the United States, according to a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday. The statement gave a deadline of September 1 for the staff cuts.

The United States has not identified how many diplomatic employees are in Russia. Russia’s state television, First Channel, reported Saturday that 745 of 1,200 people employed at the US embassy and consulates would be affected.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday demanded that the United States cut its diplomatic staff in Russia and said it would seize two US diplomatic properties, a Moscow storage facility and a country house outside the capital, in a sharp response to the new US sanctions bill. Russia was set to take over the properties effective August 1.

Putin had hoped relations would improve with the United States, but now says it does not appear that will happen soon, according to state media.

“We waited a long time for things to perhaps change for the better,” state media quoted Putin as saying. “We had such hope that the situation would change, but judging by the situation that will not be soon.”

On taking retaliatory measures, Putin said, “I thought it was time for us to show that we will not leave this without an answer. As for other possible measures, or whether it is a lot or not, this is quite sensible from the point of view of the work of the diplomatic department. …”

Threats made earlier

Earlier Sunday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had threatened further retaliation would be coming.

“If the US side decides to move further towards further deterioration, we will answer, we will respond in kind,” Ryabkov said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We will mirror this. We will retaliate. … But my whole point is, don’t do this, it is to the detriment of the interests of the US.”

A request to the White House for comment was not immediately returned.

President Donald Trump has indicated he will sign the sanctions bill.

Bill would block Trump from easing sanctions

The bill, which passed the Senate on Thursday by a vote of 98-2, would give Congress new power to stop Trump from easing sanctions against Moscow.

This bill also would set into law penalties President Barack Obama’s administration imposed against Russia in December for meddling in the US election last year and for its aggression in Ukraine. Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed Russian compounds in Maryland and New York. At the time, Russia did not mount a proportional response, and a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Putin was “in no rush to make a decision.”

Congress is investigating Russian hacking into the 2016 elections. US intelligence agencies say Russia intervened to tip the election toward Trump.