Russia says sanctions forced it to take action
Kremlin may want Trump to act after diplomatic purge.
The dismissal of 755 diplomatic corps employees was stunning in its breadth, but Kremlin appears to be reaching out to Trump.
Even as it sought to punish the United States for imposing new sanctions by forcing the mass dismissal of employees from U.S. diplomatic posts in Russia, the Kremlin left the door open Monday for President Donald Trump to avoid further escalation.
Without mentioning the U.S. president directly, Moscow seemed to be appealing to him to resurrect his campaign promise to try to improve Russian-U.S. relations.
“The will to normalize these relations should be placed on the record,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters Monday, and the “attempt at sanctions diktat” should be abandoned.
The breadth of the dismissals demanded — 755 people, most of whom will be Russian employees — was stunning even by the standards of the Cold War playbook from which the move seemed copied. But Peskov suggested that Russia had been forced to respond to Congress, and that it was not the Kremlin that was making matters worse.
“Of course we’re not interested in those relations being subject to erosion,” Peskov said. “We’re interested in sustainable development of our relations and can only regret that, for now, we are far from this ideal.”
Putin, in the television interview during which he announced the retaliatory move, said that Russian patience with waiting for relations to improve was at an end.
It was a major shift in tone from the beginning of this month, when Putin met Trump for the first time at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany.
Trump had talked during his campaign of improving ties with Russia and had praised Putin, and the Kremlin had expected the faceto-face meeting of the presidents to mark the start of a new era. The immediate assessment in Moscow was that the two had set the stage for better relations.
But then, in quick succession, came the expanded sanctions passed by Congress, Trump’s indication that he would sign them into law and Moscow’s forceful retaliation.
In Washington, the State Department issued a statement saying that it was assessing the impact of the Russian measures and how it would respond. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow declined to comment.
President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands last month at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Before the U.S. sanctions vote, the Kremlin had expected the face-toface meeting of the two leaders to set the stage for better relations between the U.S. and Russia.