U.S. must cut staff in Rus­sia by 755

Putin or­der in re­tal­i­a­tion for sanc­tions

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Nataliya Vasilyeva and Matthew Lee of The As­so­ci­ated Press; by Ash­ley Parker, Mad­hu­mita Mur­gia and An­drew Roth The Wash­ing­ton Post; by Henry Meyer of Bloomberg News; and by Neil Mac­Far­quhar of The New York T

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.

“Over 1,000 em­ploy­ees — diplo­mats and tech­ni­cal work­ers — worked and con­tinue to work to­day in Rus­sia; 755 will have to stop this ac­tiv­ity,” Putin said, ac­cord­ing to both a clip shown on state-run Ros­siya 1 tele­vi­sion

and a tran­script pro­vided by the In­ter­fax news agency.

In re­sponse, the U.S. State Depart­ment deemed it “a re- gret­table 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 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.

Although the re­duc­tion in U.S. diplo­matic staff had been an­nounced on Fri­day, the pres­i­dent’s state­ment was the first to con­firm the large num­ber of em­bassy per­son­nel in­volved.

Speak­ing in a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view on the Ros­siya 1 net­work, Putin said Rus­sia had run out of pa­tience wait­ing for re­la­tions with the U.S. to im­prove.

“We had hoped that the sit­u­a­tion will some­how change, but ap­par­ently if it changes, it won’t be soon,” Putin said, 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.”

Putin’s re­marks came dur­ing a 3½-day trip by Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence to eastern Europe to show U.S. sup­port for coun­tries that have chafed at in­ter­fer­ence from Mos­cow — Es­to­nia, Ge­or­gia and Mon­tene­gro.

Speak­ing briefly with re­porters in Es­to­nia, Pence reaf­firmed the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to sign the sanc­tions bill, but also held out the pos­si­bil­ity that the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the penal­ties might ac­tu­ally im­prove re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries, say­ing he and Trump “ex­pect Rus­sian be­hav­ior to change.”

“The pres­i­dent and I re­main very hope­ful that we’ll see dif­fer­ent be­hav­ior by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, with re­gard to Ukraine, with re­gard to sup­port­ing rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea,” Pence said. “We con­tinue to be­lieve that if Rus­sia will change its be­hav­ior, our re­la­tion­ship can change for the good and im­prove for the in­ter­ests in both of our coun­tries and the in­ter­est of peace and sta­bil­ity in this re­gion and around the world.”

Rus­sia is open to co­op­er­at­ing 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.

There are more than 1,000 peo­ple 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.

In a state­ment, the State Depart­ment said: “This is a re­gret­table and un­called for act. We are as­sess­ing the im­pact of such a lim­i­ta­tion and how we will re­spond to it. We have no fur­ther com­ment at this time.”

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 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 cur­rently op­poses fur­ther mea­sures.

“We cer­tainly have some­thing to re­spond with and re­strict those ar­eas of joint co­op­er­a­tion 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.

“If the time comes, we can con­sider other op­tions for re­spond­ing. But I hope it doesn’t come to that. As of to­day, I’m against it,” he said.

In ad­di­tion, the Krem­lin said that as of Tues­day, it will block ac­cess to two U.S. diplo­matic prop­er­ties: a ware­house in Mos­cow and a bu­colic pic­nic ground along the Mos­cow River. The diplo­matic tit-for-tat started un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. In re­sponse to re­ports of Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Obama or­dered the ex­pul­sion of 35 Rus­sian diplo­mats and shut down two Rus­sian recre­ational re­treats in the U.S.

Putin had made no se­cret of the fact that he hoped Trump would re­turn the two es­tates as a friendly ges­ture when the two met for the first time ear­lier this month, but that did not hap­pen. The U.S. gov­ern­ment has said the two Rus­sian prop­er­ties it closed were not just recre­ational ar­eas but were also used for in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing.

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