Rus­sia: Mended U.S. ties still goal

Congress forced its hand, it says

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

MOS­COW — Even as it sought to pun­ish the United States by im­pos­ing new sanc­tions that force the dis­missal of em­ploy­ees from U.S. diplo­matic posts in Rus­sia, the Krem­lin left the door open Mon­day for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to avoid a fur­ther es­ca­la­tion.

“The will to nor­mal­ize [Rus­sia and U.S.] re­la­tions should be placed on the record,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, told re­porters Mon­day.

Rus­sia’s leader warned that he has more tricks up his sleeve to use against the U.S., but he voiced hope that he wouldn’t need to use them.

Rus­sia’s diplo­matic ex­pul­sions were in re­sponse to sanc­tions passed by Congress last week to pun­ish Rus­sia for in­ter­fer­ing in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The Congress-passed mea­sure also would re­quire Trump to seek con­gres­sional ap­proval be­fore re­mov­ing any sanc­tions. Trump has in­di­cated that he will sign the mea­sure.

Dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump promised to work to im­prove U.S. ties with Rus­sia. On Mon­day, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, vis­it­ing neigh­bor­ing Es­to­nia, said he still hoped for “bet­ter days and bet­ter re­la­tions with Rus­sia.”

Pence said in the cap­i­tal, Tallinn, that the U.S. wants to im­prove bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with Rus­sia “de­spite the re­cent diplo­matic ac­tion by Mos­cow.”

Peskov said Mon­day that Rus­sia wants con­struc­tive co­op­er­a­tion 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.

The breadth of Rus­sia’s diplo­matic dis­missals — 755 peo­ple, most of whom are Rus­sian em­ploy­ees — was sig­nif­i­cant even by Cold War stan­dards. But Peskov sug­gested that Rus­sia had been forced to re­spond to Congress, and that it was not the Krem­lin that was mak­ing ties 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 a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view dur­ing which he an­nounced the re­tal­ia­tory move, said Rus­sian pa­tience for im­proved U.S. re­la­tions was at an end.

It was a big shift in tone from the be­gin­ning of last month, when Putin and Trump met for the first time at the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, Ger­many. The im­me­di­ate as­sess­ment in Mos­cow was that the two had set the stage in that meet­ing for bet­ter re­la­tions.

How­ever, con­gres­sional and FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tions into po­ten­tial links be­tween Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and Rus­sia have weighed heav­ily on the White House, de­rail­ing hopes for mend­ing ties that were strained over Rus­sia’s in­volve­ment in the Ukrainian cri­sis, the war in Syria and other dis­putes.

WARN­ING OF MORE

In late De­cem­ber, in re­sponse to Rus­sian hack­ing of last year’s U.S. elec­tion, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ex­pelled 35 Rus­sian diplo­mats, giv­ing them 72 hours to leave the U.S., and or­dered the seizure of two Rus­sia diplo­matic coun­try es­tates in the U.S., which Amer­i­cans said the Rus­sians had used to con­duct es­pi­onage.

Putin did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to those ex­plu­sions, hop­ing that ties would im­prove un­der a new U.S. pres­i­dent. But, now, in ad­di­tion to cur­tail­ing the U.S. diplo­matic mis­sion, Rus­sia is block­ing ac­cess start­ing to­day to a ware­house and a pas­toral area along the Mos­cow River that the U.S. Em­bassy has used for bar­be­cues.

Congress’ sanc­tions last week also seek to pun­ish Rus­sia for re­leas­ing emails hacked from Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign last year.

Putin has de­nied any Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the U.S. elec­tion, say­ing that anti-Rus­sian sen­ti­ment in the United States is be­ing used as a weapon in an in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal bat­tle.

On Sun­day, Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Ryabkov warned the U.S. against re­tal­i­at­ing against Rus­sia for that coun­try’s lat­est ac­tions.

“If the U.S. side de­cides to move fur­ther to­wards fur­ther de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, we will an­swer, we will re­spond in kind,” Ryabkov said on ABC’s This Week.

Asked whether Rus­sia is con­sid­er­ing such things as ban­ning U.S. con­sumer goods, which could af­fect sales of any­thing from Coca-Cola to iPhones to Ford cars, Ryabkov de­clined to pro­vide specifics but said “we have a rich tool­box at our dis­posal.”

“I can as­sure you that dif­fer­ent op­tions are on the ta­ble, and con­sid­er­a­tion is be­ing given to all sorts of things,” he said.

But Putin said that while Rus­sia has a range of op­tions “that would be sen­si­tive for the Amer­i­can side, I don’t think we should do that. It would hurt the devel­op­ment of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.”

STAFFING CUTS

The U.S. State Depart­ment said it was as­sess­ing the ef­fect of the Rus­sian mea­sures and how to re­spond to them. The U.S. Em­bassy in Mos­cow de­clined to com­ment.

At the very least, the Krem­lin’s lat­est or­der is ex­pected to set back some func­tions at the em­bassy, like pro­cess­ing visas, which both sides had al­ready slowed.

Con­sular ser­vices in Rus­sia will be “very hard hit,” said Michael McFaul, a for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Mos­cow. “Rus­sians will have to wait much longer to get a visa,” he said by email.

Many of those emerg­ing from the visa sec­tion of the em­bassy Mon­day sug­gested that the lat­est mea­sures could only make a bad sit­u­a­tion worse.

Vladimir Kruglov, a re­tiree who said he en­joyed tour­ing na­tional parks in the United States, said that un­til re­cently the visa process had taken a max­i­mum of 20 days, but there are now all kinds of ex­tra pro­ce­dures, in­clud­ing a month’s wait for an in­ter­view.

Just as in 2014, when Rus­sia banned many Western food im­ports in re­ac­tion to sanc­tions im­posed on it over the Ukraine cri­sis, it seems that or­di­nary Rus­sians will bear the brunt of the Krem­lin’s lat­est sanc­tions.

Most of the 755 em­bassy

work­ers dis­missed in Rus­sia are likely to be Rus­sians who work at the em­bassy in Mos­cow and at the U.S. con­sulates in St. Peters­burg, Yeka­ter­in­burg and Vladi­vos­tok. It is not clear how many, if any, Amer­i­cans will be cut.

Peskov said it is up to the U.S. to de­cide how to re­duce its staff to 455 peo­ple, match­ing the size of Rus­sia’s diplo­matic staff in the United States, in­clud­ing those at the United Na­tions in New York.

A State Depart­ment in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port for 2013, the lat­est con­crete num­bers pub­licly avail­able, said there were 934 “lo­cally em­ployed” staff mem­bers at the em­bassy in Mos­cow and at three con­sulates, out of a to­tal staff of 1,279. That would leave roughly 345 Amer­i­cans there, many of whom re­port reg­u­lar ha­rass­ment by Rus­sian of­fi­cials.

The ma­jor­ity are hired by the State Depart­ment, which is in charge of run­ning the U.S. Em­bassy and con­sulates, pro­cess­ing visas and han­dling other diplo­matic tasks. But the staff also in­cludes em­ploy­ees of dozens of gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies and de­part­ments, like the Defense Depart­ment, the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment, NASA and even the Li­brary of Congress. Col­lec­tively, the en­ter­prise is of­ten re­ferred to as the U.S. Mis­sion Rus­sia or as Mis­sion Rus­sia.

The 2013 re­port con­tains in­for­ma­tion about who worked for the U.S. Mis­sion Rus­sia, in­clud­ing a break­down of how many U.S. and for­eign staff mem­bers worked for each gov­ern­ment depart­ment and agency. The U.S. Mis­sion Rus­sia con­sisted of rep­re­sen­ta­tives for 35 agen­cies in 2013.

The sin­gle largest de­part­men­tal em­ployer in Mis­sion Rus­sia is the In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tive Ad­min­is­tra­tive Sup­port Ser­vices, which in 2013 em­ployed 652 peo­ple. Of those 652 peo­ple, 603 were for­eign na­tion­als, likely Rus­sians, mostly pro­vid­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices.

U.S. Mis­sion Rus­sia was once far larger. Ac­cord­ing at a 2007 re­port, it em­ployed at least 1,779 peo­ple at that time, in­clud­ing 1,251 for­eign na­tion­als.

While the State Depart­ment em­ployed 1,043 of the 1,279 U.S. Mis­sion Rus­sia work­ers in 2013 and will prob­a­bly see most from the cuts, other de­part­ments also are ex­pected to take a hit. In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Neil MacFar­quhar, Ivan Nechep­urenko and Oleg Mat­snev of The New York

Times; by Vladimir Isachenkov of The Associated Press; by Henry Meyer, Stepan Kravchenko, Ilya Arkhipov and Mark Ni­quette of Bloomberg News; and by An­drew Roth of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

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