Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced the ejection of 775 US diplomats in retaliation for a new US sanctions bill.
Putin announced the move on Sunday, effectively cutting the US diplomatic mission of roughly 1,200 in Russia by more than half.
The order from Moscow, reported by AFP, comes in response to a sanctions bill that passed the US Congress on Thursday, which US President Donald Trump has said he will sign into law.
The Kremlin had on Friday seized two diplomatic properties and ordered the US to cut its mission to 445, the same size as Russia’s in the US, but the new order from Putin is the first revelation of a headcount of expulsions.
Earlier on Sunday, a top Russian diplomat lambasted the United States Congress for voting to sanction Russia, and warned of further retaliation by Moscow.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told ABC’s ‘This Week’ that the US sanctions bill was ‘weird and unacceptable’.
He said if Donald Trump signed it when it reaches his desk, it will be ‘the last straw.’
‘If the US side decides to move further towards further deterioration, we will answer. We will respond in kind. We will mirror this. We will retaliate,’ Ryabkov said.
The diplomat added that his ‘whole point is don’t do this. It’s to the detriment of the interests of the US.’
Ryabkov’s comments came after Moscow ordered the United States on Friday to cut hundreds of diplomatic staff and said it would seize two US diplomatic properties.
Those moves were a response to the new sanctions that were approved nearly unanimously by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Ryabkov confirmed that the seizing of the properties was in response to the bill, but declined to say what other measures Russia is willing to take if the United States continues to apply pressure.
‘We have a very rich toolbox at our disposal,’ he said.
‘It would be ridiculous on my part to start speculating on what may or may not happen. We are not gamblers. We are people who consider things very seriously and very responsibly,’ said Ryabkov.
‘But I can assure you that different options are on the table and consideration is being given to all sorts of things.’
The United States-Russia relationship has become increasingly strained in the wake of the US presidential election.
Several US intelligence agencies believe that the Kremlin interfered in the US election to discredit Hillary Clinton and help President Donald Trump win the election.
Russia has denied meddling in the US election.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI, is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race.
He is said to also be looking at whether or not Trump’s campaign may have colluded with Russia – an allegation that Trump and his associates have staunchly denied.
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