Russia to Kick Out Some U.S. Diplomats Over Sanctions

By Thomas Grove Features Dow Jones Newswires

Russia struck out at the U.S. on Friday, saying it would expel diplomats and close a diplomatic retreat outside Moscow after Congress passed a new round of sanctions against Moscow.

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Legislation passed by both the House and the Senate this week tighten existing sanctions and introduce a set of new measures to punish Russia for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. The legislation also would prevent President Donald Trump from easing sanctions without congressional approval.

Mr. Trump, who has expressed skepticism over allegations of Russia's role in last year's election, hasn't made it clear whether or not he will sign the bill. Russian authorities said there was no need to wait for the president's signature to act.

"The most recent events show that Russophobia has taken hold in certain circles in the United States as has a course of open confrontation with our country," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Russian measures will reduce the number of U.S. diplomatic and technical staff in Russia as of Sept. 1 to 455, the same number of Russian diplomats now operating in the U.S. after then-President Barack Obama expelled 35 late last year, the Russian foreign ministry said.

It wasn't clear how many people are employed by the U.S. embassy or whether the positions included Russian foreign service nationals. But the reduction would lead to the expulsion of around 700 staff members, said Russian parliamentary vice-speaker Sergei Zheleznyak.

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"This will be felt by American diplomacy," Mr. Zheleznyak said on state television. "The measures against the United States have been a long time coming."

The ministry also ordered a diplomatic retreat in a forested complex outside Moscow shuttered from Aug. 1 and closed diplomatic storage sites.

The measure looks to be a tit for tat move in response to U.S. authorities' decision last year to deny Russian diplomats access to two Moscow-owned compounds--one in New York and one in Maryland--used by Russian diplomats.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called the latest round of sanctions against Moscow "impudent," had initially expected warmer ties with the U.S. under Mr. Trump. The measures escalate tensions after ties fell to Cold War lows following the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 and allegations last year that Russia had used cyber attacks to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

The U.S. ambassador, John Tefft was called to the Foreign Ministry on Friday and informed of the decision to implement the measures by Russian authorities, the ministry said.

Mr. Tefft "expressed his strong disappointment and protest" and the Russian government's notification has been passed on to Washington, a U.S. embassy spokesperson said.

Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of the upper house of parliament's committee on information policy said Russia could impose new sanctions on the U.S., including economic measures.

"The United States has been carrying out an economic war against a number of our companies," he said, without going into details of possible new measures.

Russian authorities say the sanctions passed in Congress, which includes a provision allowing the president to impose penalties on firms packing high-profile Russian pipeline projects, is merely a pretext to cut Russian gas exports to its largest trading partner, the European Union.

It would allow some joint energy ventures to go ahead, but would sanction new projects and joint ventures in which a sanctioned Russian person or entity holds a stake of 33% or more.

That provision has upset Europeans because it poses a potential risk to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a project of the Russian gas giant Gazprom backed by a consortium of five European companies, to transport gas from Russia to Europe through the Baltic Sea.

Write to Thomas Grove at thomas.grove@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 28, 2017 08:57 ET (12:57 GMT)