In a stern and unprecedented message, Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked the US to remove 755 embassy and consulate staff in Russia. This comes after the US Congress backed new sanctions against Kremlin. Donald Trump Administration has hit back, terming the move as a regrettable and uncalled for act.
Here are 10 things to know about the latest development in US-Russia relations
1. The Russian foreign ministry has demanded Washington to cut its diplomatic presence in Russia by September 1 to 455 people — the same number Moscow has in the US. “More than a thousand people — diplomats and technical personnel — were working and are still working” at the US embassy and consulates, Putin said in an interview with Rossia-24 television. 755 people must stop their activities in Russia.”
2. Putin warned that Russia could further ratchet up the pressure, but he hoped this would not be needed. Russia still “has things to say and is able to further restrict areas of common activities, which may be sensitive for the American side,” he said. If the damage inflicted by “attempts to pressure Russia” rises further, “we are able to look at other forms of retaliation. But I hope we won’t have to do it,” he said. “For the time being, I am against” any additional riposte, Putin was quoted as saying by AFP.
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3. Last week, the US Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to toughen sanctions on Russia for allegedly meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Iran and North Korea are also targeted in the sanctions bill.
4. The sanctions on Russia would need approval of President Donald Trump, who had made an improvement in ties with Russia a plank of his election campaign — a position his critics said was inexplicable. The White House has said US President Donald Trump would sign those sanctions into law.
5. Apart from directing US to slash its number of diplomats in Russia to 455 by September 1, Moscow had also froze two embassy compounds — a Moscow summer house and a storage facility in the city — from August 1.
6. In December last, then US president Barack Obama ordered out 35 Russian diplomats and closed down two embassy summer houses that Washington said were being used by Moscow for espionage. At the time, the Kremlin said it would put any retaliation on hold until after Trump took office.
7. On the sidelines of the July 7-8 G20 summit in Hamburg, Putin and Trump talked about setting up what Trump called an “impenetrable cyber security unit” to prevent hacking in future elections.
8. Putin said more than 1,000 people are currently employed at the Moscow embassy and three US consulates in Russia. They include both Americans and Russians hired to work in the diplomatic offices.But did not explain how the figure of 755 positions was calculated.
9. The State Department declined to give an exact number of American diplomats or other US officials in Russia, but the figure is believed to be about 400, some of whom have families accompanying them on diplomatic passports. The vast majority of the more than 1,000 employees at the various US diplomatic missions in Russia, including the embassy in Moscow and consulates in St Petersburg, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg, are local employees.
10. Putin, however, mentioned space and energy as the main areas where Russia and the United States have successfully pursued projects together.