Rus­sia or­ders re­duc­tion in U.S. diplo­mats af­ter new sanc­tions


MOSCOW — Rus­sia’s For­eign Min­istry or­dered a re­duc­tion in the num­ber of U.S. diplo­mats in Rus­sia on Fri­day and said it was clos­ing down a U.S. recre­ational re­treat in re­sponse to fresh sanc­tions against Rus­sia.

The U.S. Se­nate ap­proved a new pack­age of stiff fi­nan­cial sanc­tions Fri­day against Rus­sia, Iran and North Korea and aides of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Fri­day that he in­tends to sign it.

The leg­is­la­tion bars Trump from eas­ing or waiv­ing the penal­ties on Rus­sia un­less Congress agrees. It is aimed at pun­ish­ing Moscow for in­ter­fer­ing in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and for its mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion in Ukraine and Syria, where the Krem­lin has backed Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

The Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry said, in re­sponse, it is or­der­ing the U.S. Em­bassy in Rus­sia to re­duce the num­ber of its diplo­mats by Sept. 1. Rus­sia will also close down the em­bassy’s recre­ational re­treat on the out­skirts of Moscow as well as ware­house fa­cil­i­ties.

The min­istry said the num­ber was be­ing cut to 455 diplo­mats. U.S. Em­bassy spokes­woman Maria Ol­son could not im­me­di­ately say how many peo­ple had to leave to meet Rus­sia’s new re­quire­ments.

Ol­son said Am­bas­sador John Tefft “ex­pressed his strong dis­ap­point­ment and protest” with the move and passed the Rus­sian govern­ment’s no­ti­fi­ca­tion to Wash­ing­ton for re­view.

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son in a phone call later on Fri­day that Moscow was forced to re­spond to what he de­scribed as “il­le­gal sanc­tions against Rus­sia, li­belous state­ments against it, a mas­sive ex­pul­sion of diplo­mats and ex­pro­pri­a­tion of our diplo­matic prop­erty.”

Lavrov added, how­ever, that Moscow was ready to “nor­mal­ize the bi­lat­eral ties with the U.S. and co­op­er­ate on im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional is­sues.”

Re­la­tions be­tween Rus­sia and the United States dropped to a post-Cold War low fol­low­ing Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea in 2014 and its sup­port for sep­a­ratists in east­ern Ukraine, where fight­ing since 2014 has left 10,000 peo­ple dead. Re­ports of Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion have put a damper on hopes for bet­ter ties that the Krem­lin had pinned on Trump’s pres­i­dency.

The new pack­age of sanc­tions aims to hit Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and his in­ner cir­cle by tar­get­ing al­legedly cor­rupt of­fi­cials, hu­man rights abusers and cru­cial sec­tors of the Rus­sian econ­omy, in­clud­ing weapons sales and en­ergy ex­ports.

The bill un­der­went re­vi­sions to ad­dress con­cerns voiced by Amer­i­can oil and nat­u­ral gas com­pa­nies that sanc­tions spe­cific to Rus­sia’s en­ergy sec­tor could back­fire on them to Moscow’s ben­e­fit. Law­mak­ers said they also made ad­just­ments so the sanc­tions on Rus­sia’s en­ergy sec­tor didn’t un­der­cut the abil­ity of U.S. al­lies in Europe to get ac­cess to oil and gas re­sources out­side of Rus­sia.

Rus­sia’s For­eign Min­istry dis­missed the new sanc­tions as “cre­at­ing un­fair com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages for the U.S. econ­omy.”

“This kind of black­mail aimed at re­strict­ing the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Rus­sia and other na­tions is a threat for many coun­tries and global busi­nesses,” the state­ment said.

Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Ryabkov told Rus­sian news agen­cies later Fri­day that he would not rule out fur­ther steps, adding that Rus­sia’s “tool­box” of how to re­act to the new sanc­tions “doesn’t come down to” cut­ting the em­bassy staff and seiz­ing the recre­ational re­treat.

Rus­sia’s re­sponse mir­rors moves by out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama last De­cem­ber to ex­pel 35 Rus­sian diplo­mats and shut down two Rus­sian es­tates in the U.S.

Moscow said it would cut the U.S. diplo­matic corps even fur­ther if the U.S. de­cides to ex­pel more Rus­sian diplo­mats.

The Krem­lin had pre­vi­ously said it would not im­pose any sanc­tions on the U.S. un­til Trump signs the bill.

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