Russian President Vladimir Putin has expelled at least 755 employees working at U.S. diplomatic missions, the harshest diplomatic measure in at least three decades and a blow to President Donald J. Trump’s hopes that the ties could be improved anytime soon.
Mr. Putin told a Russian TV channel on Sunday that the U.S. will need to cut its 1,000 + diplomatic staff by 755 by Sept. 1, including diplomats and technical workers. Russian authorities will also seize two U.S. diplomatic properties, a Moscow storage facility and a country house outside Moscow.
The Russian retaliation came after U.S. Congress imposed sanctions on Russia, but just before Mr. Trump even signed the bill. Mr. Trump signaled that he would sign the bill that blocks him from easing the sanctions and it is not clear if the president will change his mind after the retaliation.
“We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change,” Mr. Putin said on Sunday. “But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.”
U.S. State Department said the decision by Moscow is “uncalled-for” and assessing how to respond to the staff reduction. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to meet with Mr. Trump on Monday to figure out next steps.
Last week, U.S. Congress expanded sanctions on Russia for meddling in U.S. elections last year and restricted the president’s authority to ease them. The Congress is also looking into whether or not Trump campaign had colluded with Russian officials in 2016 elections.
Mr. Putin’s retaliation against sanctions on Sunday was similar to a move by the Soviet Union to expel diplomats in 1986 when the U.S. arrested a Russian diplomat at U.N. over espionage charges. Kremlin apparently wanted to reduce the U.S. diplomatic staff to 455, matching the number of Russians working at diplomatic missions in the U.S.