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The Trump administration ordered Russia to close three diplomatic facilities in the U.S., the latest move in a series of escalating diplomatic slights between the two countries.
The U.S. is requiring Russia to shutter its consulate general in San Francisco and its annexes in Washington and New York by Sept. 2, a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday.
The demand was a retaliatory response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order that the U.S. cut its diplomatic presence in Russia to 455 people by Sept. 1.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in a phone call that the U.S. had complied with Putin’s directive and informed him of the order to close Russian diplomatic facilities.
Although the demand from Putin meant the U.S. had to cut approximately 755 diplomatic staff members, Washington is only requiring that Moscow close the three facilities. Staffers who worked in those facilities, which house Russia’s trade mission, can be reassigned and continue to work in the U.S., the senior administration official said.
The official declined to say which members of the U.S. mission in Russia were removed, but former diplomats have said they expected Russian local hires to be most affected by the cuts.
The Trump administration order is the latest example of deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Russia. Last December, the Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two diplomatic compounds in the U.S., a move described as retaliation for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
The Russian government initially suggested it would retaliate, but ultimately decided to wait and deal with the Trump administration, which was then weeks away from taking office.
It is revealed that Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, spoke with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. about the sanctions before Trump took office. Flynn, who misled other members of the Trump administration about the content of his conversations with the Russian ambassador, was forced to resign over the episode.
Both Trump and Putin have expressed a desire to pursue better relations between the two countries. But pressure from Congress, particularly from Democrats, to respond to intelligence agencies’ findings of Russian election meddling, have hampered those efforts.
Last month, Congress passed additional sanctions against Russia. Putin responded by announcing sweeping cuts to the American diplomatic presence in his country. Putin’s goal, he said at the time, was to create parity between the two countries’ diplomatic staff levels.
“The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern,” the State Department said in a statement. “The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it would announce its response after studying the measures imposed by the U.S. “To cite [Vladimir] Lenin, we don’t need any hysterical outbursts,” Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s newly appointed ambassador to Washington said.
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