Kremlin retaliates against sanctions bill, orders US to cut diplomatic staff in Russia

UPDATE 3 — 8/2, 3:45 p.m. EDT: The White House issued dualing statements Wednesday to announce President Trump’s signing of a sanctions bill that imposes economic penalties on the countries of Russia, North Korea and Iran. 

“In its haste to pass this legislation, the Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions,” a statement by Trump read, referring to language in the bill that limits presidential authority to unilaterally lift the sanctions without congressional approval.

A second statement by Trump referred to “national unity” as the primary reason for his endorsement of the bill and added that, “America will not tolerate interference in our democratic process, and that we will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization.” 

 

 

UPDATE 2 — 7/30, 3:49 p.m. EDT: President Vladimir Putin announced Sunday that 755 U.S. diplomats in Russia will be removed following further sanctions levied against Moscow earlier this week in a congressional bill.

According to Russian state media, 1,200 individuals currently work at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, 745 of which are set to be expelled. 

“We waited a long time for things to perhaps change for the better,” Putin said. “I thought it was time for us to show that we will not leave this without an answer.”

 

UPDATE — 7/29, 5:05 p.m. EDT: The White House’s press secretary office issued a statement Friday indicating that President Trump will approve a sanctions bill passed this week by Congress that levies economic penalties against Russia, North Korea and Iran.

“President Donald J. Trump read early drafts of the bill and negotiated regarding critical elements of it,” it read. “He has now reviewed the final version and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign.”

A provision included in the bill requires congressional approval before any future changes to the parameters of sanctions on Russia can be implemented by the White House.

 

In an apparent retaliatory move in response to the approval of a fresh round of sanctions by Congress against Russia, the Kremlin has ordered dramatic reductions in American personnel to diplomatic posts and the closure of two U.S. facilities in Moscow.

This week, the House and Senate passed a sanctions bill targeting Russian energy firms and limiting President Trump’s power to lift penalties imposed on Russia earlier this week.  The bill awaits the president’s signature.

A statement released by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Friday ordered the U.S. to substantially cut diplomatic staff from over 1,000 personnel to 455, or the total number of Russian staff presently working in the U.S.  Similarly, the Russians will prohibit the use of a Moscow storage facility and a recreational residence used by American diplomats, effective August 1.

The Kremlin has given the U.S. until September 1 to reduce staff at its Moscow embassy and three consular offices in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok.

“Therefore, we suggest our American counterparts bringing the number of diplomatic and technical staff at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, into strict correspondence with the number of Russian diplomats and technical staff currently working in the United States, until September 1, 2017,” read the Foreign Ministry’s statement. 

In the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.”

The move comes months after Mr. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and ordered the closure of two Russian properties in response to allegations Russia interfered in the November 2016 presidential election.

While Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated Sunday that the White House supports sanctions as drafted by Congress, no announcement has yet been made that President Trump intends to sign the legislation, which also targets Iran and North Korea. Incoming White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, explained to CNN Thursday that the president may veto the bill to “negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians,” a strategy that is unlikely persuade congressional members not to vote for an override.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Russia had decided on retaliatory measures against the U.S. before the sanctions was officially signed into law as “technically the form passed by the Senate is more important”.

 

Editor’s note: This article has been updated.

 

[BBC News] [CNN] [Washington Post] [Politico] [Photo courtesy AFP/Getty Images via Los Angeles Times]

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