An image taken on July 31, 2017 shows the main building of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow. (By AFP)
Foreign Ministry official says Moscow may order Washington to slash the number of its diplomatic personnel across Russia
to 300 people or even fewer in a tit-for-tat measure against the US.
The statement was made Wednesday by the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America Department, Georgy Borisenko, during an interview with Russia’s RIA news
It came following warnings by Russian officials of their intention to respond to the September shutdown of Russian diplomatic missions across the US, including its consulate in the west coast city of San Francisco.
Earlier, Moscow ordered Washington to cut the number of its diplomatic and technical staff working throughout Russia by almost 60 percent — reducing the number to 455 — during a diplomatic row that began by the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in the final days of the former president Barack Obama’s administration in December 2016.
The dispute intensified when the US Congress imposed new sanctions on Moscow in July.
A Russian flag flies next to the US Embassy building in Moscow, July 31, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The figure of 455, according to Borisenko, had been meant to mirror the total number of Russian diplomats working in the US, but also included Russian diplomats serving at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
“The fact that in the summer, we took into account the people working for Russia’s mission at the UN, this was goodwill,” he said.
“If they haven’t appreciated this, we have the full right to reduce… the number of US diplomats further,” he said, explaining that Moscow could stop taking the number of Russian UN staff into account when calculating what parity between the two countries meant.
“In this case,” he said, “the number of American personnel in Russia should decline to a level of 300 or below.”
The development came two days after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his American counterpart, Rex Tillerson, that the Russian diplomatic properties had been “illegally seized” by the US government, demanding their return to Moscow’s embassy in Washington.
Lavrov further warned Tillerson during a phone conversation that Washington should be prepared for the consequences and possible retaliation if Russian diplomatic properties were not returned.