U.S. begins Russia drawdown after Kremlin
retaliates for sanctions
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[August 01, 2017]
By Jack Stubbs and Gennady Novikov
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States began
removing furniture and equipment from a diplomatic property in Moscow on
Tuesday in the first sign of compliance with a Kremlin order to slash
its presence in Russia as retaliation for new U.S. sanctions.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered the United States to cut around 60
percent of its diplomatic staff in Russia by Sept. 1, and said Moscow
will seize two U.S. diplomatic properties in response to sanctions
approved by Congress last week.
The White House has said U.S. President Donald Trump will sign the
sanctions bill, meant as a response to alleged Russian meddling in the
2016 U.S. presidential election and to further punish Moscow for its
2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
On Tuesday, removal men began dismantling play equipment and barbecues
at a U.S.-owned dacha (country villa) on the outskirts of Moscow, after
being refused access the day before, according to a Reuters journalist
at the scene.
The dacha, which is being confiscated along with a U.S. warehouse in the
south of the Russian capital, was used by U.S. diplomatic staff at the
weekends and to host parties for students, journalists and other
The removal men said they arrived at around 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and were
seen packing furniture, including beds and lamps, into three white
removal vans before leaving the property three hours later.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said U.S. staff had to leave the
dacha and warehouse by midday on Tuesday, TASS news agency reported.
Ryabkov and the Kremlin said no one had obstructed U.S. employees trying
to access the property.
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A U.S. embassy car is seen through the gate at the entrance to the
U.S. embassy warehouse building in the south of Moscow, Russia,
August 1, 2017. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
Putin said on Sunday Russia had ordered the United States to cut 755
of its 1,200 diplomatic staff in its embassy and consular
operations, though many of those let go will be Russian citizens,
with the United States allowed to choose who leaves.
The ultimatum issued by the Russian leader is a display to voters at
home that he is prepared to stand up to Washington - but is also
carefully calibrated to avoid directly affecting the U.S. investment
he needs, or burning his bridges with Trump.
One person at the embassy, who spoke on condition of anonymity
because they are not authorized to talk to the media, said staff
there were feeling depressed and despondent as they came to terms
with the Kremlin's order.
"The mood in the office is very pessimistic," the person said.
"Everyone is just loitering, or sitting on job websites looking for
a new job."
(Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova, Valery Stepchenkov and
Dmitry Solovyov; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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