Just hours after the Senate overwhelmingly voted to enforce further sanctions against (mostly) Russia, North Korea and Iran, while binding Trump from undoing any measures against Moscow without Congressional approval, in the process infuriating not only the Kremlin but America’s European allies, with Brussels warning repeatedly it will have no choice but to respond in kind, on Friday morning Russia’s Foreign Ministry ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic staff to 455 by Sept. 1 and said it was seizing a dacha compound used as a retreat as well as a warehouse used by US diplomats in retaliation for new U.S. sanctions against Moscow.
The move is “linked to the passing of the new law on sanctions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells reporters on conference call, explaining that Russia acted before law signed by President Donald Trump because the form of legislation unlikely to change.
“The Russian side is suspending the use of all storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow, and a cottage in Serebryaniy Bor by the US Embassy in Russia as of August 1,” the ministry said in a statement.
Moscow also said that the number of US diplomatic service staff in Russia should be reduced to equal the number of Russian diplomats in the US by September 1. “This means that the total number of personnel involved in the American diplomatic and consular institutions in the Russian Federation is reduced to 455.”
Shortly after the statement, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified person that “hundreds, not dozens, of U.S. diplomatic and technical staff will have to leave Russia as part of retaliation”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved the move, according to his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.
The foreign ministry also said that Russia is also prepared to resort to additional retaliatory measures in case of new moves by Washington to reduce its diplomatic corps.
“In the case of new unilateral actions of the US authorities to reduce the number of our diplomats in the US, it will be followed by a tit-for-tat response,” the Foreign Ministry stated. “We reserve the right on other mutual measures, which can affect US interests.”
Two weeks ago, on July 14, Moscow warned that it was running out of patience in light of the stalemate that followed the closure of two Russian diplomatic compounds in the US, and mentioned possible retaliatory measures including the expulsion of diplomats. “We have something to retaliate with: the personnel of the US embassy in Moscow greatly exceeds the number of our embassy staff in Washington,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova stated.
Russia’s retaliation, outlined in a statement from the Foreign Ministry, came a day after the U.S. Senate voted to slap new sanctions on Russia, putting President Donald Trump in a tough position by forcing him to take a hard line on Moscow, angering both Russia and the EU, or veto the legislation and anger his own Republican Party.
Russia’s initial tit-for-tat response comes after Russian diplomatic property was confiscated by the Obama administration in 2016, in response to alleged Russian meddling in the US election. The US also expelled 35 Russian diplomats and denied Russian diplomatic staff access to the New York and Maryland compounds.