- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
“Russia has never engaged in making bilateral relations worse. We only respond.”
So announced Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova on her Facebook page on Friday, the day on which Russian authorities told their U.S. counterparts to cut their Russia-based diplomatic staff. So, too, did the Russian government say that it was stripping the United States of two diplomatic properties — a dacha and a warehouse.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also put out an explanatory video on Twitter:
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) July 28, 2017
Last December, shortly before President Donald Trump took office and after U.S. spy agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the country’s presidential elections, the United States expelled 35 Russian diplomats and seized two diplomatic compounds. Russia has demanded the return of the compounds for the past seven months, and maintains the seizure was a breach of international law, bilateral agreements, the Vienna Convention, U.S. law, and diplomatic inviolability.
Zakharova’s post notes that the Russian side did not respond to these measures for seven months. The foreign ministry’s statement opens, “On July 27, the U.S. Congress passed a new bill on tougher anti-Russia sanctions. This measure is further proof of the Unites States’ extremely hostile foreign policy.” It therefore seemed to some that it was this congressional move, which would require the president to secure lawmakers’ approval before lifting sanctions on Moscow to be lifted and would also penalize firms that enrich the Russian energy industry, that served as the catalyst for Russia’s retaliation.
But a spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. told Foreign Policy, “It was definitely not in response to [the] new sanctions bill.” Asked why the retaliatory move comes seven months later, the spokesperson replied, “Zakharova explained it many times. We tried to give our negotiations a chance.” (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov evidently explained to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by phone on Friday that Russia’s decision followed a series of hostile moves toward Russia by the United States.)
In its announcement, Moscow said it had demanded that the U.S. cut back its diplomatic presence in Russia to a number in line with Russia’s diplomatic presence in the United States by Sept. 1.
“Russia reserves the right to resort to other measures affecting US’ interests on a retaliatory basis,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement concluded. It did not specify what, exactly, those measures would be.
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