sign Russia sanctions, Moscow retaliates
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[July 29, 2017]
By Eric Beech and Andrew Osborn
WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) - U.S.
President Donald Trump will sign legislation that imposes sanctions on
Russia, the White House said on Friday, after Moscow ordered the United
States to cut hundreds of diplomatic staff and said it would seize two
U.S. diplomatic properties in retaliation for the bill.
The U.S. Senate had voted almost unanimously on Thursday to slap new
sanctions on Russia, forcing Trump to choose between a tough position on
Moscow and effectively dashing his stated hopes for warmer ties with the
country or to veto the bill amid investigations in possible collusion
between his campaign and Russia.
By signing the bill into law, Trump can not ease the sanctions against
Russia unless he seeks congressional approval.
Moscow's retaliation, announced by the Foreign Ministry on Friday, had
echoes of the Cold War. If confirmed that Russia's move would affect
hundreds of staff at the U.S. embassy, it would far outweigh the Obama
administration's expulsion of 35 Russians in December.
The legislation was in part a response to conclusions by U.S.
intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential
election, and to further punish Russia for its annexation of Crimea in
Late on Friday, the White House issued a statement saying Trump would
sign the bill after reviewing the final version. The statement made no
reference to Russia's retaliatory measures.
Russia had been threatening retaliation for weeks. Its response suggests
it has set aside initial hopes of better ties with Washington under
Trump, something the U.S. leader, before he was elected, had said he
wanted to achieve.
Relations were already languishing at a post-Cold War low because of the
allegations that Russian cyber interference in the election was intended
to boost Trump's chances, something Moscow flatly denies. Trump has
denied any collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.
The Russian Foreign Ministry complained of growing anti-Russian feeling
in the United States, accusing "well-known circles" of seeking "open
President Vladimir Putin had warned on Thursday that Russia would have
to retaliate against what he called boorish U.S. behavior. Putin's
spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Friday that the Senate vote
was the last straw.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson by telephone that Russia was ready to normalize relations with
the United States and to cooperate on major global issues.
Lavrov and Tillerson "agreed to maintain contact on a range of bilateral
issues", the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
The ministry said the United States had until Sept. 1 to reduce its
diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people, the number of Russian
diplomats left in the United States after Washington expelled 35
Russians in December.
It was not immediately clear how many U.S. diplomats and other workers
would be forced to leave either the country or their posts, but the
Interfax news agency cited an informed source as saying "hundreds" of
people would be affected.
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President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir
Putin during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg,
Germany July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
A diplomatic source told Reuters that it would be for the United States
to decide which posts to cut, whether occupied by U.S. or Russian
An official at the U.S. Embassy, who declined to be named because
they were not allowed to speak to the media, said the Embassy
employed around 1,100 diplomatic and support staff in Russia,
including Russian and U.S. citizens.
Russian state television channel Rossiya 24 said over 700 staff
would be affected but that was not confirmed by the foreign ministry
or the U.S. embassy.
The Russian Foreign Ministry's statement said the passage of the
bill confirmed "the extreme aggression of the United States in
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met outgoing U.S. ambassador
John Tefft on Friday to inform him of the counter measures, Russian
news agencies reported. The U.S. Embassy said Tefft had expressed
his "strong disappointment and protest".
Most U.S. diplomatic staff, including around 300 U.S. citizens, work
in the main embassy in Moscow, with others based in consulates in St
Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was also seizing a Moscow dacha
compound used by U.S. diplomats for recreation, from Aug. 1, as well
as a U.S. diplomatic warehouse in Moscow.
In December, the outgoing Obama administration seized two Russian
diplomatic compounds - one in New York and another in Maryland - at
the same time as it expelled Russian diplomats.
Trump and Putin met for the first time at a G20 summit in Germany
this month in what both sides described as a productive encounter,
but Russian officials have become increasingly convinced that
Congress and Trump's political opponents will not allow him to mend
ties, even if he wants to.
The European Union has also threatened to retaliate against new U.S.
sanctions on Russia, saying they would harm the bloc's energy
security by targeting projects including a planned new pipeline to
bring Russian natural gas to northern Europe.
A European Commission spokesman in Brussels said the bloc would be
following the sanctions process closely.
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov, Polina Devitt, Jack Stubbs
and Denis Pinchuk in Moscow, Patricia Zengerle and Ayesha Rascoe in
Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Grant McCool and Christian
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