Russia Seizes 2 American Diplomatic Properties, Orders U.S. Embassy to Reduce Staff by September

The United States Embassy in Moscow. The moves against American diplomatic activity in Russia had been threatened for weeks.
Alexander Nemenov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russia took its first steps on Friday to retaliate against proposed American sanctions for Moscow’s suspected meddling in the 2016 election, seizing two American diplomatic properties and ordering the United States Embassy to reduce staff by September.

The moves, which Russia had been threatening for weeks, came a day after the United States Senate approved a measure to expand economic sanctions against Russia, as well as against Iran and North Korea. The bill, mirroring one passed by the House on Tuesday, now goes to President Trump for his signature.

In its statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry noted that the United States Congress had voted to toughen sanctions. “This yet again attests to the extreme aggressiveness of the United States when it comes to international affairs,” the statement said.

Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, said the Russian leader had signed off on the measures despite saying a day earlier that he would wait for the final version of the law before taking any such steps.

The version that emerged from the Senate vote late Thursday seemed to be the final one, Mr. Peskov noted, and the White House has already suggested that it might reject this law in favor of something even more onerous.

“The White House said that the bill could be toughened, so it doesn’t change the essence of the situation,” Mr. Peskov said.

It is unclear whether Mr. Trump will sign the legislation. But given the congressional investigations into possible collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin, and considering that the Republican Party has majorities in the House and the Senate, he is under considerable pressure not to use his veto.

The White House has been ambivalent about whether Mr. Trump will give his approval. During his campaign for the presidency, Mr. Trump pledged to improve ties with Russia.

The United States Embassy in Moscow issued a short statement confirming only that it had received the notification from the Russian Foreign Ministry and that it was sending the orders to Washington for review. The American ambassador, John F. Tefft, had expressed “his strong disappointment and protest,” the statement said.

The statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the United States Embassy was asked to reduce its diplomatic and technical staff members in Russia to 455 by Sept. 1, matching the number of Russian diplomats in the United States.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Neil MacFarquhar