In response to the sanctions legislation passed by Congress last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced he will be cutting 755 employees currently working for the American diplomatic mission in Russia.
The sanctions are designed to punish Russia for interfering in last year’s presidential election, despite the face that such “interference” (Russian or otherwise) had no effect on votes, and for the country’s military aggression in Syria an Ukraine.
Strong votes in the House and Senate effectively forced Trump to sign the sanctions package, which imposes restrictions on North Korea and Iran as well as Russia.
“We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better,” said Putin. “We held out hope that the situation would somehow change. But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.”
Putin said the staff reduction was intended to cause serious discomfort for Washington and its representatives working in Moscow. “The personnel of the US diplomatic missions in Russia will be cut by 755 people an will now equal the number of the Russian diplomatic personnel in the United States, 455 people on each side,” he said.
The State Department calls Putin’s action a “regrettable and uncalled-for act.”
“I think this retaliation is long, long overdue,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. When the US Senate “voted so overwhelmingly on a completely weird and unacceptable piece of legislation, it was the last drop.”
Trump and Putin met face-to-face for the first time last month. Both countries seemed to interpret the meeting as a sign that warmer relations would follow, but it looks like this isn’t the case.
Putin announced the staff reduction after Congress passed the bill but before Trump signed it, however, which suggests the Russian president hasn’t given up on building a relationship with Trump.
Meanwhile, some worry that Moscow will have no reason to show restraint in Syria or eastern Ukraine now that hopes of improving relations with the US have been put on hold.