Moscow (July 29, 2017): The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that it would seize two US diplomatic properties in a sharp response to a new sanctions bill the US Congress passed a day earlier and demanded US to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia.
The order — which affects the US Embassy in Moscow and consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok — would reduce US diplomatic and technical staff to 455, the same number Russia has in the United States, by September 1.
Russia also is suspending the use of a US storage facility in Moscow and a country house, or dacha, outside Moscow by Tuesday.
In the statement, the ministry said, “Any new unilateral actions by the US authorities to reduce the number of our diplomats in the United States will be met with a mirror response.”
Thirty-five Russian diplomats were expelled from the United States in December under sanctions President Barack Obama imposed over Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election. The sanctions also included the closure of two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used for intelligence purposes.
John Tefft, US ambassador to Russia, expressed “strong disappointment and protest” over Moscow’s decision to expel the US diplomats, according to a statement from the US Embassy in Moscow.
Moscow’s latest move comes a day after the US Senate passed sweeping legislation slapping new sanctions on Russia — over its alleged interference in last year’s election, annexation of Crimea and military operations in eastern Ukraine — and limiting President Donald Trump’s ability to remove them.
The bill, which also includes new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, was a product of lengthy negotiations between the House and Senate. In the end, both chambers passed it overwhelmingly.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters late Thursday that the President would review the sanctions bill. She did not say whether Trump would sign or veto the measure when it reaches his desk. The wide, bipartisan support for the law means Congress could override a presidential veto.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on a conference call Friday that Moscow had decided to retaliate before the bill went to Trump because “technically the form passed by the Senate is more important” and is “almost final.”
Asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin had authorized the move, Peskov said such measures are “impossible without the President’s permission.”
He added that possible amendments to the bill would not change the “essence” of the matter.
Immediately after the United States ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recommended a tit-for-tat expulsion of 35 US diplomats and the shuttering of two American facilities in Russia. However, Putin at that point took a magnanimous tone, saying they could stay and that he would await Trump’s inauguration before taking further action.