Putin orders expulsion of 755 U.S. diplomatic staff in response to sanctions
New U.S. sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow for interfering in 2016 presidential election
President Vladimir Putin said Russia will expel 755 U.S. diplomatic staff and could consider imposing additional measures against the United States as a response to new U.S. sanctions, although it would not act now.
Moscow ordered the United States on Friday to cut hundreds of diplomatic staff and said it would seize two U.S. diplomatic properties after the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate approved new sanctions on Russia.
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Putin said in an interview with Rossiya 1 released on Sunday that 755 U.S. diplomatic and technical staff would have to leave Russia by Sept. 1.
"Because more than 1,000 workers — diplomats and support staff — were working and are still working in Russia, 755 must stop their activity in the Russian Federation," he said.
New U.S. sanctions were 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.
Moscow said on Friday that the United States had until Sept. 1 to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people, matching the number of Russian diplomats left in the United States after Washington expelled 35 Russians in December.
On Friday an official at the U.S. Embassy, who did not wish to be identified, said the Embassy employed around 1,100 diplomatic and support staff in Russia, including Russian and U.S. citizens.
'Quite difficult situation'
Putin said that Russia could take more measures against the United States, but not at the moment.
"I am against it as of today," Putin said in the interview with Rossiya 1.
He repeated that the U.S. sanctions were a step to worsening relations between the two countries.
"We were waiting for quite a long time that maybe something would change for the better, were holding out hope that the situation would change somehow. But it appears that even if it changes someday, it will not change soon," Putin said.
However, he said Moscow and Washington were achieving results on cooperation even "in this quite difficult situation." The creation of the Southern de-escalation zone in Syria showed a concrete result of the joint work between the two countries, Putin said.