Putin retaliates by ordering 755 US diplomats out of Russia

Russian president Vladimir Putin has ordered the U.S. to reduce its diplomatic presence in Russia by 755 employees in retaliation for sanctions legislation passed by Congress.

ABC News:

"The personnel of the U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia will be cut by 755 people and will now equal the number of the Russian diplomatic personnel in the United States, 455 people on each side," Putin said in an interview on the Rossiya 1 network.

"Because over a thousand employees, diplomats and technical personnel have been working and are still working in Russia, and 755 of them will have to cease their work in the Russian Federation. It’s considerable," Putin said.

A State Department official called the move a "regrettable and uncalled for act."

"We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it." the official said. "We have no further comment at this time.”

Putin's comments come on the same day that the Kremlin's deputy foreign minister said on ABC News' "This Week" that Russian retaliation over U.S. sanctions is "long, long overdue."

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov talked to "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz about the Kremlin's action Friday demanding a cut in the number of American diplomats in Russia and seizing two U.S. facilities.

"I think this retaliation is long, long overdue," Ryabkov said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced Friday that the size of the U.S. diplomatic corps was being reduced to 455 but did not specify the size of the cut in U.S. staff.

Ryabkov said Sunday that the Kremlin decided to act after Congress approved a new sanctions bill targeted at Russia as well as North Korea and Iran.

When the U.S. Senate on Thursday "voted so overwhelmingly on a completely weird and unacceptable piece of legislation, it was the last drop," he said.

The new sanctions bill cleared Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, by a 98-2 vote in the Senate and 419-3 in the House. The legislation now awaits President Trump's signature, and in a statement Friday night the White House said Trump "approves the bill and intends to sign it."

Although the scale of the retaliation is almost unprecedented, the Trump administration was expecting something along these lines.  Russia could take additional steps like sanctioning American companies and individuals, but Putin is facing facts; Russia needs the U.S. a lot more than we need Russia, and sanctioning U.S. businesses would not be in Russian interests.

There are a lot of questions today about why we need so many diplomats in Russia in the first place.  Most U.S. government workers in Russia do not work for the State Department.  There is a myriad of U.S. departments and agencies that have offices in Russia, from about 70 agricultural attachés to more than a dozen U.S. law enforcement personnel. 

The number of U.S. employees working in Russia is actually down considerably from 2005, when more than 1,700 U.S. citizens worked in Russia.  The reduction in U.S. personnel will almost certainly impact the time it takes to get a visa and do business with Russian companies, and it may impact joint operations for everything from preventing nuclear smuggling to drug enforcement.

Eventually, after a few months, the U.S. employees will start filtering back.  We won't make a big deal of it, and neither will Moscow.  But after a couple of years, it is likely that most employees who are being sent home today will have returned to Russia.

Putin's point will have been made, and without too much damage to U.S.-Russia relations.

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