U.S. must shed 755 diplo­matic staff in Rus­sia

Move in re­sponse to lat­est sanc­tions aimed at pun­ish­ing Mos­cow for elec­tion med­dling, ag­gres­sion in Syria, Ukraine

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - NATALIYA VASILYEVA MOS­COW —

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin said Sun­day the United States would have to cut its em­bassy and con­sulate staff in Rus­sia by 755, height­en­ing ten­sions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Mos­cow three days af­ter the U.S. Congress ap­proved sanc­tions against Rus­sia.

In re­sponse, the U.S. State Depart­ment deemed it “a re­gret­table and un­called for act.”

Rus­sian’s For­eign Min­istry on Fri­day or­dered a re­duc­tion by Sept. 1 in the num­ber of U.S. diplo­matic per­son­nel in Rus­sia. It said it is or­der­ing the U.S. Em­bassy to limit the num­ber of em­bassy and con­sular em­ploy­ees in the coun­try to 455 in re­sponse to ap­proval of the new pack­age of Amer­i­can sanc­tions. The White House has said U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump would sign those sanc­tions into law.

The leg­is­la­tion, which also tar­gets Iran and North Korea, seeks to pun­ish Mos­cow for med­dling in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion and for its mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion in Ukraine and Syria.

“We had hoped that the sit­u­a­tion will some­how change, but ap­par­ently if it changes, it won’t be soon,” Putin said in an in­ter­view tele­vised on Ros­siya 1, ex­plain­ing why Mos­cow de­cided to re­tal­i­ate. “I thought it was the time to show that we’re not go­ing to leave it with­out an an­swer.”

Rus­sia is open to co-op­er­at­ing with the U.S. on var­i­ous is­sues, in­clud­ing ter­ror­ism and cy­ber­crime, but in­stead it “only hears un­founded ac­cu­sa­tions of med­dling in U.S. do­mes­tic af­fairs,” he said.

Putin said more than 1,000 peo­ple are cur­rently em­ployed at the Mos­cow em­bassy and three U.S. con­sulates in Rus­sia. They in­clude both Amer­i­cans and Rus­sians hired to work in the diplo­matic of­fices.

The Rus­sian leader did not ex­plain how the fig­ure of 755 po­si­tions was cal­cu­lated.

The State Depart­ment de­clined to give an ex­act num­ber of Amer­i­can diplo­mats or other U.S. of­fi­cials in Rus­sia, but the fig­ure is be­lieved to be about 400, some of whom have fam­i­lies ac­com­pa­ny­ing them on diplo­matic pass­ports.

The vast ma­jor­ity of the more than 1,000 em­ploy­ees at the var­i­ous U.S. diplo­matic mis­sions in Rus­sia, in­clud­ing the em­bassy in Mos­cow and con­sulates in St. Peters­burg, Vladi­vos­tok and Yeka­ter­in­burg, are lo­cal em­ploy­ees.

Asked about the po­ten­tial for ad­di­tional sanc­tions against Wash­ing­ton, Putin de­scribed the re­duc­tion in diplo­matic staff as “painful” and said he op­poses fur­ther mea­sures.

“We cer­tainly have some­thing to re­spond with and re­strict those ar­eas of joint co-op­er­a­tion that will be painful for the Amer­i­can side but I don’t think we need to do it,” he said, adding that such steps could also harm Rus­sian in­ter­ests.

Putin men­tioned space and en­ergy as the main ar­eas where Rus­sia and the U.S. have suc­cess­fully pur­sued projects to­gether.

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