Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday announced that U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia would have to cut their staff by 755 workers, a retaliatory move responding to new sanctions Washington is set to impose against the Kremlin.
Initial Russian news reports stated that Putin had ordered the expulsion of 755 U.S. diplomatic workers from the country. But the staff reductions do not necessarily mean that all of those affected will be Americans forced to leave the country ― some may be non-American support staff.
Putin made the announcement during a televised interview with Russia’s state-owned Rossiya 1 network, criticizing the sanctions passed by Congress last week as an unprovoked attempt to worsen U.S.-Russia relations. U.S. President Donald Trump intends to sign the sanctions bill, the White House announced Friday.
The legislation, which also targets North Korea and Iran, expands sanctions on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea. Moscow’s anger at the bill prompted the Russian Foreign Ministry to announce on Friday that it would be ordering the U.S. to cut down its diplomatic staff in the country by Sept. 1.
The bill targets Russian officials and makes it more difficult for a U.S. president to remove sanctions, requiring congressional approval before any such action can be taken. The legislation had widespread support, passing 98-2 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House.
The moves mark a further degradation of the already troubled U.S.-Russian diplomatic relationship. Tensions over the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, conflicting policy goals in Syria, and Russia’s actions toward Ukraine have spurred back-and-forth reprisals between Moscow and Washington.
Last December, President Barack Obama’s administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two compounds in a response to Russia’s interference during the U.S. election and treatment of American diplomats in Moscow.
But Putin’s action goes far beyond Obama’s action, and will bring the number of U.S. staff at embassies and consulates in Russia down to 455. Along with the reductions, Russia is also seizing two U.S. diplomatic properties ― a warehouse in Moscow and a dacha used by embassy workers.
Russia’s response to the latest sanctions provides a fresh crisis for Trump, who upon his election appeared set to establish friendlier ties with Russia but instead has presided over relations sinking to post-Cold War lows.
Before the new sanctions bill was passed, there were questions over whether Trump would sign the legislation amid fears of Russian retaliation and the provisions that require him to seek congressional approval in order to remove the penalties.
Putin said on Sunday that more punitive measures against the U.S. were possible in the future, but that he would not be pursuing any immediately. The Russian president also said he could foresee no change in the state of U.S.-Russia relations anytime soon.
This article has been updated with details on Putin’s expulsion order.