Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia is expelling 755 U.S. diplomats and technical personnel in retaliation against new U.S. sanctions proposed against Moscow.
On Friday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry had signaled that the U.S. would need to downsize its staff to 455, to exactly match the number of Russian diplomatic and technical staff in the U.S. Now, Putin has announced the exact number of staff he’s ordered the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to cut.
Russia also said Friday that it’s seizing two U.S. diplomatic properties, much like the U.S. shut down two Russian diplomatic compounds under the Obama Administration.
In an interview Sunday on Russian TV, Putin said he is opposed to any additional retaliatory actions against the U.S., at least “as of today,” Reuters reports.
The new U.S. sanctions against Russia were overwhelmingly approved by Congress earlier this week, with a veto-proof majority. President Trump was initially opposed to the sanctions, but the White House says he is preparing to sign them into law.
As NPR’s Miles Parks reported on Tuesday, the sanctions are punishing Russia for meddling in the 2016 presidential election:
“The legislation slaps Moscow with new financial restrictions on doing business with American entities while also restricting Trump’s ability to waive those penalties. Often, a president has a freer hand in dealing with foreign governments, but the bill deliberately takes away that discretion.
“To waive sanctions on Russia, Trump would have to send Congress a report explaining and justifying his decision, and lawmakers would then get 30 days to decide whether to allow it.
“The vote puts Trump in an awkward position. He raised eyebrows from his first days on the campaign trail by expressing a desire to improve the U.S.- Russia relationship. He and his staff have specifically expressed an openness to easing sanctions.
” ‘I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only, is possible, absolutely possible,’ Trump said last year at a campaign speech in Washington.”
Speaking in Estonia on Sunday, Vice President Pence criticized Russia’s “destabilizing activities.” But, he said, “if Russia will change its behavior, our relationship will change for the good.”