Russia retaliates against proposed U.S. sanctions
MOSCOW — Russia took its first steps Friday to retaliate against proposed U.S. sanctions for Moscow’s suspected meddling in the 2016 election, seizing two U.S. diplomatic properties and ordering the U.S. Embassy to reduce staff by September.
The moves, which Russia had been threatening for weeks, came a day after the U.S. Senate approved a measure to expand economic sanctions against Russia, as well as against Iran and North Korea. The bill, mirroring one passed by the House on Tuesday, now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.
In its statement, the Rus- sian Foreign Ministry noted that the U.S. Congress had voted to toughen sanctions. “This yet again attests to the extreme aggressiveness of the United States when it comes to international affairs,” the statement said.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said the Russian leader had signed off on the measures despite saying a day earlier that he would wait for the final version of the law before taking any such steps.
The version that emerged from the Senate vote late Thursday seemed to be the final version, Peskov noted, and the White House has already suggested that it might reject this law in fa- vor of something even more onerous.
“The White House said that the bill could be toughened, so it doesn’t change the essence of the situation,” Peskov said.
It is unclear whether Trump will sign the legislation. Given the congressional investigations into possible collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin, and considering that the Republican Party has majorities in the House and the Senate, he is under considerable pressure not to use his veto.
But the White House has been ambivalent about whether Trump will give his approval. During his campaign for the presidency, Trump pledged to improve ties with Russia.
The statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the U.S. Embassy was asked to reduce its diplomatic and technical staff members in Russia to 455 by Sept. 1, matching the number of Russian diplomats in the United States.
In addition to the main embassy in Moscow, the United States maintains consulates in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg.
Starting on Aug. 1, Russia will also block access to a warehouse in Moscow and to a bucolic site along the Moscow River where staff members walk their dogs and hold barbecues.