WASHINGTON — The State Department today said it’s achieved “parity” with Russia’s decision to scale back U.S. diplomatic operations in Moscow by making the Russian government close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington and a consular annex in New York City by Sept. 2.
After the House and Senate recently passed new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea by veto-proof, nearly unanimous margins, including a provision requiring congressional approval of any administration sanctions rollback, the Kremlin moved forward with retaliatory measures before Trump signed the bill.
Putin ordered 755 American diplomatic personnel be cut and two diplomatic facilities in Moscow be shut down. “As you might have noticed, we waited quite some time in the hope things would change for the better,” Putin told state television at the end of July. “We hoped that the situation would change, but judging by everything, if it is going to change, then it won’t be soon… we have to show that we will not let this go unanswered.”
Earlier this month, President Trump was asked about Putin’s retaliation. “I want to thank him, because we’re trying to cut down on payroll,” Trump told reporters after a national security briefing at his golf club in Bedminister, N.J. “And as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll. There’s no real reason for them to go back.”
“So, I greatly appreciate the fact that they’ve been able to cut our payroll for the United States,” he added. “We’ll save a lot of money.”
Today, State Department press secretary Heather Nauert said the U.S. “has fully implemented the decision by the government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia.”
“We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries,” she said, noting that with action against Russian diplomatic facilities “both countries will remain with three consulates each.”
“While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship,” Nauert said. “The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern. The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.”
Russia’s new ambassador to D.C., former Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, told reporters “we need to sort this out calmly, very calmly and act in a professional manner.”
“To cite Lenin, we don’t need any hysterical outbursts,” Antonov said.
A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call today that “it is our hope that the Russians will recognize” that “spirit” of parity, “since they were the ones who started the discussion on parity and we’re responding and complying with what they required of us.”
However, the U.S. is “not expelling any Russians at this time.”
“We have informed the Russians that they may be reassigned to other diplomatic or consular posts in the United States, if they choose to do so,” the official said.
“…In terms of what will happen to the buildings, the buildings that are owned by the Russians will continue to be owned by the Russians, and it will be up to them to determine whether they wish to sell those or dispose in some other way. They just will not be authorized for diplomatic or consular activities, and they won’t have — they won’t be recognized as such. I think at least one of the facilities is leased. So I would presume they’re just going to end their lease for that facility.”