Russia urges U.S. to fix ties as it cuts U.S. diplomatic staff
Amid a major diplomatic retaliation unseen since the Cold War era, Russia urged the United States on Monday to show the “political will’’ to repair ties.
President Vladimir Putin’s move to cut hundreds of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia underlines his readiness to raise the ante in the face of new sanctions approved by the U.S. Congress. The Russian leader warned that he has more tricks up his sleeve to hurt the U.S., but he voiced hope that he wouldn’t need to use them.
Vice-President Mike Pence, visiting neighbouring Estonia, said he hoped for “better days and better relations with Russia.’’
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said it will take time for the U.S. to recover from what he called “political schizophrenia,’’ but he added that Russia wants constructive co-operation with Washington.
“We are interested in a steady development of our ties and are sorry to note that we are still far from that,’’ he said.
Peskov’s statement followed televised comments Sunday by Putin, who said the U.S. would have to cut 755 of its embassy and consular staff in Russia, a massive reduction he described as a response to new U.S. sanctions.
The Russian Foreign Ministry first announced the cuts Friday, when it said that the U.S. should reduce its presence to 455 employees, the number that Russia has in the United States. It also declared the closure of a U.S. recreational retreat on the outskirts of Moscow and warehouse facilities.
Moscow’s action is the longexpected tit-for-tat response to former U.S. President Barack Obama’s move to expel 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two Russian recreational retreats in the U.S. following allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Putin had refrained from retaliating until now in the hope that President Donald Trump would follow on his campaign promises to improve ties with Moscow and roll back the steps taken by Obama.
The Russian leader hailed his first meeting with Trump on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany earlier in July, saying that the talks offered a model for rebuilding relations.
But the congressional and FBI investigations into links between Trump’s campaign and Russia have weighed heavily on the White House, derailing Moscow’s hopes for an improvement in ties that worsened over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and other disputes.
The overwhelming endorsement of a new package of stiff financial sanctions that passed Congress with veto-proof numbers last week dealt a new blow to Moscow’s aspirations. The White House said Trump will sign the package, and Putin decided to fire back without waiting for that to happen.
“We had hoped for quite a long time that the situation will somehow change, but apparently if it changes, it won’t be soon,’’ Putin said.