Putin, Responding to Sanctions, Orders US to Cut Diplomatic Staff by 755 – New York Times

Although the initial news alerts in Russia said that Mr. Putin had ordered 755 Americans out of the country, the president had actually ordered an overall staff reduction. Not all of those leaving their posts would be Americans expelled from the country.

Part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that the Russian president used a Russian verb meaning to “pack up,” when referring to his action.

In making the initial announcement on Friday, Russia announced that the American diplomatic staff would have to be reduced to 455, matching the number of Russians employed at diplomatic missions in the United States.

From the outset there was some confusion about how the Russians arrived at that number, so it was not clear how many Americans would actually have to leave Russia. Mission employees include scores of workers erecting a new building as well as translators, drivers and a large number of support staff.

Russia has additional options available for further measures against American interests, Mr. Putin warned, without going into details. But for the moment, he said, he is opposed to using them. “I hope it will not come to this,” he said.

Russia has been accused of interfering in the American presidential election, including releasing hacked emails embarrassing to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Congress is also investigating the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, with Mr. Trump’s oldest son, Donald J. Trump Jr., recently confirming that he met with a Russian lawyer linked to the government who wanted to discuss removing an earlier round of sanctions.

Mr. Putin has denied any Russian interference in the American election, saying that anti-Russian sentiment in the United States was being used to drive an internal political battle.


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On Friday, the White House announced that President Trump would sign the law passed by Congress last week that strengthens existing sanctions and expands some of them, especially in the oil sector.

Mr. Putin said in the interview released Sunday that it was important not to let such actions go unanswered.

In December, President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shuttered two Russian diplomatic country estates in Maryland and on Long Island. Mr. Putin did not respond at that time, indicating he would wait for better relations with the next administration.

Even while announcing the sizable cuts on Monday, Mr. Putin held out hopes that the worsening relations with Washington could be reversed. He noted the United States and Russia had cooperated in trying to establish safe zones in Syria, and that there was a long history of shared projects in the oil sector.

In announcing the response on Friday, Russia said that it wanted to reduce the American diplomatic presence in Russia to 455 people, mirroring the number of Russian diplomats accredited to the United States. In addition to the main embassy in Moscow, the United States also runs consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

On Friday, the United States Embassy in Moscow issued a short statement in which the outgoing American ambassador, John F. Tefft, expressed “his strong disappointment and protest” over the cuts.

In addition, the Kremlin said that as of Tuesday, it will block access to two American diplomatic properties: a warehouse in Moscow and a bucolic picnic ground along the Moscow River. That move was basically a tit-for-tat response to the seizures in the United States.

Mr. Putin had made no secret of the fact that he hoped Mr. 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 American government has said the two Russian properties it closed were not just recreational areas, but were also used for intelligence gathering.

The number of American targets inside Russia that the Kremlin retaliate against is limited, particularly if Moscow is worried about damaging the investment climate or about other economic fallout just as it recovers from a recession.

Outside its borders, however, is a different matter. Moscow might have shown some restraint in eastern Ukraine or in Syria because of the expectation of improving ties with Washington, but now, the Kremlin may be looking for places to challenge the United States.

The initial announcement from the Russian Foreign Ministry about the cuts said that if the United States responded to the latest measure with any further expulsions, Russia would match them.

The White House lobbied against the new sanctions law, calling it a curb on presidential power because it would effectively force Mr. Trump to seek congressional approval before lifting any sanctions. Its passage in a Republican-controlled Congress make clear the level of unease in Mr. Trump’s own party about his repeated praise of Mr. Putin and of Russia.

The new law would strengthen sanctions first directed against Russia in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea and its destabilization of Ukraine. Those sanctions curbed American involvement in the oil industry and limited Russian access to Western financial markets. Russia responded with a broad ban on Western food imports.

The new legislation would expand some of the measures, particularly in the energy market. European countries have expressed concern about the law’s potential impact on the energy market on the Continent, because it might affect the expansion of the Nord Stream pipeline that carries Russian natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

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