News & Politics

Putin Retaliates Against Sanctions by Slashing Number of U.S. Diplomats

(Sergey Guneev/Sputnik via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he was ordering a cut in the number of U.S. diplomatic staff by 755. That’s more than a 60% reduction and brings a rough parity with the number of Russian diplomats serving in the U.S.

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 Fede  ration. It’s considerable,” Putin said.

The U.S. State Department declined to respond to Putin’s remarks, saying in a statement, “It is our policy to not comment on the number of individuals serving at our missions abroad.”

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,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei 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.”

As far as diplomatic retaliation, this is SOP — although the number might be almost unprecedented. I don’t think Trump wants to get in a tit for tat situation, where he responds by cutting the Russian diplomatic staff in Washington (although you never know with this president).

The discrepancy between the number of Russian diplomats in the U.S. and American diplomats in Russia is a holdover from the Cold War. At that time, the U.S. was convinced that the Russian embassy was staffed with KGB and GRU agents. In truth, the Soviets had a massive espionage operation in the U.S., as you might expect in a country where movement wasn’t restricted. But many of the spies were not embassy personnel, whose movements may not have been hampered but who were watched carefully by the FBI nonetheless.

After a couple of months, American diplomats will begin to return in small numbers. We won’t make a big deal of it and neither will the Russians. It’s just part of the diplomatic dance that nations take part in that keeps channels of communication open and friction at a minimum.