Rus­sia urges U.S. to fix ties as it cuts U.S. diplo­matic staff

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

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.

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