Russia ordered U.S. diplomats and embassy staff who have been in Moscow for more than three years to leave the country, an obvious retaliation over Washington’s similar requirements recently.
“U.S. embassy employees who have been in Moscow for more than three years must leave Russia by Jan. 31,” Russia Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova announced during a briefing Wednesday, saying the U.S. forced Russia to do so.
She warned more U.S. diplomatic workers in Russia would leave by July 1 if Washington continues its policy.
Last week, Russia’s ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said their diplomats are being “expelled.”
“A large group of my comrades, 27 people with families, will leave us on January 30,” Antonov said in a video interview on Saturday. “We are facing a serious staff shortage.”
Russia would reverse its course if Washington abandons its plans to force out Russian diplomats, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov indicated Wednesday.
The State Department said it was not an “expulsion.”
“The Russian Federation grants our diplomats with an initial three-year stay in Russia, the U.S. also informed Russia about a year ago that its diplomats would be subject to the same three-year assignments, which is not abnormal,” department spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters during Monday’s briefing.
“What’s happening is not an expulsion,” Porter added.
The tit-for-tat move came when Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov will meet on Thursday in Stockholm during the Organization for Security and Cooperation on Europe summit.
The United States and NATO are very concerned with the high tension between Russia and Ukraine, with both sides blaming each other’s heavy military buildup in the conflict zone.
Russia claimed Ukraine had deployed half of its armed forces there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Moscow was ready with its newly tested hypersonic weapon if NATO crosses “red lines” and deploys missiles in Ukraine. On Wednesday, he said he wanted to hold talks with Western countries to guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward.
Blinken responded Wednesday that it’s a “bad joke” for saying Ukraine poses a threat to Russia. “NATO itself is a defensive alliance.”
“Should Russia follow the path of confrontation when it comes to Ukraine, we made clear that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures,” Blinken said, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The relations between the United States and Russia have worsened these years, notably when Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and changed the constitution to stay in power.
In April, Russia and the United States withdrew their ambassadors after the Biden administration issued sanctions and expelled ten Russian diplomats over actions including the SolarWinds cyber attack and election interference. The ambassadors returned in June.
Currently, the U.S. embassy in Moscow is the last operational U.S. mission in the country after two consulates were shuttered. The embassy has a staff of 120 from around 1,200 in early 2017.
The State Department hasn’t immediately responded to a request for comment.