Russia expels 755 US diplomats in response to sanctions

President Vladimir Putin orders reduction in staff and vows for additional measures in retaliation to new US sanctions.

Russian President Putin chairs meeting with members of government at Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow
Russia said the US had until September 1 to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people [Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Reuters]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia will expel 755 US diplomatic staff and could consider imposing additional measures against the United States as a response to new US sanctions.

Putin said in an interview televised on state television on Sunday that he ordered the move because he “thought it was the time to show that we’re not going to leave that without an answer”.

He, however, ruled out any immediate measure against the US. “I am against it as of today,” Putin said in an interview with Vesti TV.

Moscow ordered the US on Friday to cut hundreds of diplomatic staff and said it would seize two US diplomatic properties after the US House of Representatives and the Senate approved new sanctions on Russia.

Russia said the US had until September 1 to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people, matching the number of Russian diplomats left in the US after Washington expelled 35 Russians in December.

New US sanctions were in part a response to conclusions by US intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election, and to further punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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Worsening relations

The Russian president reiterated that the US sanctions were a step to worsening relations between the two countries.

“We were waiting for quite a long time that maybe something would change for the better, were holding out hope that the situation would change somehow. But it appears that even if it changes someday, it will not change soon,” Putin said.

However, he said Moscow and Washington were achieving results on cooperation even “in this quite difficult situation”.

The creation of the Southern de-escalation zone in Syria showed a concrete result of the joint work between the two countries, he said.

Earlier in the day, a top Russian diplomat warned of retaliation by Moscow.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov referred to a bill passed by Congress on Thursday to sanction his country as “weird and unacceptable”, and said it was “the last straw”.

“If the US side decides to move further towards … deterioration, we will answer. We will respond in kind. We will … retaliate,” he said.

The US-Russia relationship has become increasingly strained in the wake of US intelligence agencies conclusion that the Kremlin interfered in the US election to discredit Hillary Clinton and help President Donald Trump win the election.

Russia has denied meddling in the US election.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI, is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race and whether or not Trump’s campaign may have colluded with Russia – an allegation that Trump and his associates have staunchly denied.

Source: News Agencies