The Oasis Reporters
July 31, 2017
In a tit-for-tat move from Russia that has triggered a fresh crisis in relations between the two superpowers, 755 US diplomats have been declared persona non grata with immediate effect in Moscow. And they must leave immediately.
Days after both houses of the US Congress voted almost unanimously to impose fresh sanctions on Moscow, Vladimir Putin said he was responding to “unlawful” behaviour by Washington.
“The American side has made a move which, it is important to note, hasn’t been provoked by anything, to worsen Russian-US relations which includes unlawful restrictions, attempts to influence other states of the world, including our allies, who are interested in developing and keeping relations with Russia,” Mr Vladimir Putin told the Rossiya 1 TV channel.
“We’ve been waiting for quite a long time that maybe something would change for the better, we had hopes that the situation would change. But it looks like, it’s not going to change in the near future .. I decided that it is time for us to show that we will not leave anything unanswered.”
Included in the US sanctions bill are measures against Iran and North Korea and was passed over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its alleged interference in the 2016 US election.
The move by legislators on Capitol Hill has pushed Donald Trump into a corner because he had made clear his opposition to the measure, but the President has said he will sign the bill, rather than use his veto power and risk fresh accusations that he is yellow on Moscow.
Russia had warned on Friday that it intended to expel the diplomats and to seize two properties used by US diplomats.
An official at the US Embassy in Moscow said there were about 1,100 diplomatic and support staff in Russia, including US citizens and Russians, according to a Reuters report last week.
Indications of a reaction came on on Sunday, when Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the vote for the sanctions was the “last drop” and said Moscow would retaliate “in kind.”
“We have a very rich toolbox at our disposal. It would be ridiculous on my part to start speculating on what may or may not happen,” Mr Rybakov told ABC. “I can assure you that different options are on the table and consideration is being given to all sorts of things.”
There has been ongoing controversy in the US about Mr Trump’s relationship with Moscow and hints of a possible collusion between his campaign and Russia over its alleged effort to interfere in the presidential election have been made . Allegations have also been made that Mr Trump’s eldest son, his campaign manager and his son-in-law, had met with a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin after they were told she had compromising material about Mr Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.
Special prosecutor Robert Mueller is currently heading a federal probe into possible collusion and there are several investigations underway on Capitol Hill. Mr Trump has repeatedly denied any such collusion and said he and his officials are the victims of a political “witch hunt”.
The main trigger for this chain of events was last December’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US and the seizure of two compounds, one in New York and the other in Maryland, that had been used by the diplomats which Barack Obama had ordered . He said the actions were being carried out in response to Moscow’s alleged attempt to interfere in the election.
Diplomatic observers expected that Mr Putin would respond in kind. But in the apparent assumption that relations between the two countries might improve once Mr Trump took office, such a contemplated reaction did not immediately happen.
Now they have.
On his own part, Mr Trump had spoken enthusiastically of his wish to have better relations between the two countries and to seek Russia’s help in countering Isis in Syria.
When Trump and Putin met at the
G20 Summit in Hamburg earlier this month, they discussed for several hours and knocked together a ceasefire deal for Syria.
Additional reporting from The Independent and other agencies.