Russian president Vladimir Putin on Sunday said that the US diplomatic staff in Russia will have to be cut down. Here is everything you need to know about the step and what led to it:
What has happened?
In an interview with Rossia-24 television, Russian president Putin said that of the US diplomatic staff working in Russia, “755 will have to cease their activities in the Russian Federation”. He said “over thousand workers”, comprising of both diplomats and technical staff are working in the country. He said this number will be capped at 455 — as this is the number of Russian diplomatic staff employed in the US.
Talking about the step and US-Russia relations, Putin said, “We waited for quite some time that maybe something would change for the better, fueled such a hope that the situation would somehow change. But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.”
What led to this?
The US Congress passed the Russians sanctions bill last week, a move which did not go down well with Putin. Russian’s Foreign Ministry on Friday ordered a reduction in the number of US diplomatic personnel in Russia by Sept. 1. It has also closed down two American properties in Russia.
Commenting on the announcement Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said in an interview on ABC channel on Sunday, “I think this retaliation is long, long overdue. After the Senate, the day before yesterday voted, or rather on the 27th of July voted so overwhelmingly on a completely weird and unacceptable piece of legislation, it was the last drop.”
What is the US sanctions bill on Russia?
Reacting to the alleged involvement of Russia in the US presidential election of 2016, former US president Barack Obama had sanctioned four Russian individuals and five Russian entities for what it said was election interference. Even though Moscow and president Putin have repeatedly denied the allegations, Russia is suspected to have played a part in tipping the scales in favour of Donald Trump, against his rival Hillary Clinton.
The US administration had described Russia’s involvement as “Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities” and had ordered 35 Russian diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours. It had also closed down two Russian properties in the country, located in Maryland and New York, on account of being engaged in intelligence activities.
This bill was passed in the US Congress Senate last week with the vote count 98-2.
How has the US reacted to it?
The US State Department has called Russia’s decision to cut hundreds from its diplomatic staff in Russia “a regrettable and uncalled for act.” Declining to comment on the exact number of embassy and consular staff in Russia, a US state official told Reuters, “We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it.”
As of 2013, the US mission in Russia, including the Moscow embassy and consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, employed 1,279 staff, according to a State Department Inspector General’s report that year. That included 934 “locally employed” staff and 301 US “direct-hire” staff, from 35 US government agencies, the report said.
That breakdown suggested the actual number of Americans forced to leave Russia would be far less than 755. “We dont (sic) have 755 American diplomats in Russia,” said Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, in a post on Twitter on Sunday.
What could this lead to?
The move is a clear sign of deterioration in the already strained US-Russia relations. According to The New York Times (NYT), analysts noted that diplomatic reductions are among the simplest countermeasures possible. “It is the least painful response that Russia could have come up with,” Vladimir Frolov, a foreign affairs analyst and columnist told the NYT. “You can scale them up and scale them down.”
According to a Michael McFaul, the cuts would likely affect how quickly the United States is able to process Russian applications for U.S. visas. “If these cuts are real, Russians should expect to wait weeks if not months to get visas to come to U.S.,” he tweeted.