Russia defends Washington diplomat cuts as hope fades of better ties
Moscow — Moscow justified on Monday its decision to purge US diplomatic personnel in the country, as the Kremlin appeared to give up on hopes of improving ties under US President Donald Trump.
President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that the US will have to slash its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755 after Moscow struck back against new sanctions passed by the US Congress.
The move represents one of the biggest single reductions of US personnel by Moscow, with Putin warning he could retaliate further even if he plans to hold off for now. “We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better,” the Kremlin strongman said.
“But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it’s not for anytime soon.”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that any hope of mending Russia-US ties rested on “curing the worsening political schizophrenia” in Washington, but admitted the two sides appeared “far away” from any improvement.
But he did insist Russia remained keen on “continuing co-operation in the areas that correspond to our interests”, suggesting Moscow remained open to working together in Syria after agreeing to a ceasefire with the US in the south of the war-torn country.
The US state department called Moscow’s move “regrettable and uncalled for” and said it was “assessing the impact of such a limitation and how to respond”.
US Vice-President Mike Pence while on a visit to Estonia said: “We hope for better relations with Russia.” He stressed that “recent diplomatic action taken by Moscow will not deter the commitment of the US to our security and the security of our allies”.
The US Senate approved last Thursday a bill to toughen sanctions on Russia for allegedly meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and its intervention in Ukraine.
The White House said Trump intended to sign off on the legislation despite complaining earlier it would cut off the president’s room for diplomatic manoeuvring.