The Cable

On the Heels of Fresh Senate Sanctions, Russia Retaliates Against U.S.

Moscow tells U.S. to cut diplomatic presence in Russia and removes two diplomatic properties.

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“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:

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.

Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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