Russia on Friday ordered the United States to cut hundreds of diplomatic staff in retaliation for a new round of U.S. sanctions, and said it was seizing two U.S. diplomatic properties.
Moscow’s decision, which had echoes of the Cold War, was announced by the Foreign Ministry a day after the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved new sanctions on Russia. The legislation was in part a response to conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and to further punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The bill goes to President Donald Trump, who could give it final approval or veto it.
Russia had been threatening retaliation for weeks. Its response suggests it has set aside initial hopes of better ties with Washington under Trump, something the U.S. leader, before he was elected, had said he wanted to achieve.
Relations were already languishing at a post-Cold War low because of the allegations that Russian cyber interference in the election was intended to boost Trump’s chances, something Moscow flatly denies. Trump has denied any collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.
The Russian Foreign Ministry complained of growing anti-Russian feeling in the United States, accusing “well-known circles” of seeking “open confrontation”.
President Vladimir Putin had warned on Thursday that Russia would have to retaliate against what he called boorish U.S. behavior. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Friday that the Senate vote was the last straw.
A top White House aide said on Thursday that Trump might veto the bill in order to push for a tougher deal, an idea that drew skepticism in Congress because his administration had spent weeks lobbying for a weaker bill. The bill is expected to garner enough support in both chambers to override any veto.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by telephone that Russia was ready to normalize relations with the United States and to cooperate on major global issues.
Lavrov and Tillerson “agreed to maintain contact on a range of bilateral issues”, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
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