Putin says U.S. must cut 755 diplomatic
staff, more measures possible
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[July 31, 2017]
By Polina Devitt and Yeganeh Torbati
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President
Vladimir Putin said the United States would have to cut its diplomatic
staff in Russia by 755 people and that Moscow could consider additional
measures against Washington as a response to new U.S. sanctions approved
Moscow ordered the United States on Friday to cut hundreds of diplomatic
staff and said it would seize two U.S. diplomatic properties after the
U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate overwhelmingly approved new
sanctions on Russia. The White House said on Friday that U.S. President
Donald Trump would sign the sanctions bill.
Putin said in an interview with Vesti TV released on Sunday that the
United States would have to cut its diplomatic and technical staff by
755 people by Sept. 1.
"Because more than 1,000 workers - diplomats and support staff - were
working and are still working in Russia, 755 must stop their activity in
the Russian Federation," he said.
The new U.S. sanctions were partly a response to conclusions by U.S.
intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential
election, and to punish Russia further for its annexation of Crimea from
Ukraine in 2014.
Russia's response suggested it had set aside initial hopes of better
ties with Washington under Trump, something the Republican president,
before he was elected, had said he wanted to achieve.
A federal law enforcement investigation and multiple U.S. congressional
probes looking into the possibility that Trump's campaign colluded with
Russia have made it harder for Trump to open a new chapter with Putin.
Russia denies it interfered in the election and Trump has said there was
Moscow said on Friday that the United States had until Sept. 1 to reduce
its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people, matching the number of
Russian diplomats left in the United States after Washington expelled 35
Russians in December.
On Friday, an official at the U.S. Embassy, who did not wish to be
identified, said the embassy employed about 1,100 diplomatic and support
staff in Russia, including Russian and U.S. citizens.
The State Department declined to comment on the exact number of embassy
and consular staff in Russia.
But a State Department official called Russia's action "a regrettable
and uncalled-for act."
"We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will
respond to it," the official said on condition of anonymity.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Navy Day parade in St.
Petersburg, Russia, July 30, 2017. REUTERS/Alexander
As of 2013, the U.S. mission in Russia, including the Moscow embassy
and consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok,
employed 1,279 staff, according to a State Department Inspector
General's report that year. That included 934 "locally employed"
staff and 301 U.S. "direct-hire" staff, from 35 U.S. government
agencies, the report said.
That breakdown suggested the actual number of Americans forced to
leave Russia would be far less than 755.
"We dont (sic) have 755 American diplomats in Russia," said Michael
McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, in a post on Twitter on
The cuts would likely affect how quickly the United States is able
to process Russian applications for U.S. visas, McFaul said.
"If these cuts are real, Russians should expect to wait weeks if not
months to get visas to come to U.S.," he said.
Putin said Russia could take more measures against the United
States, but not at the moment.
"I am against it as of today," Putin said in the interview with
He repeated that the U.S. sanctions were a step to worsening
relations between the two countries.
"We were waiting for quite a long time that maybe something would
change for the better, were holding out hope that the situation
would change somehow. But it appears that even if it changes someday
it will not change soon," Putin said.
He said Moscow and Washington were achieving results on cooperation,
however, even "in this quite difficult situation." The creation of
the southern de-escalation zone in Syria showed a concrete result of
the joint work between the two countries, Putin said.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow and Yeganeh Torbati in
Washington; Editing by Susan Fenton and Peter Cooney)
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