In response to new sanctions voted on last week in Congress, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Sunday that the the American diplomatic mission in Moscow will have to reduce its staff by 755 employees after the government seized two diplomatic properties last Friday.
In an interview with state-run television news network Rossiya 1 Putin said that his announcement was a response to American hostility:
“We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change, but, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.”
The new sanctions bill, which also imposed new measures on Iran and North Korea, was passed last Thursday in Congress with overwhelming support from both parties (only two senators and three congressmen voted against). According to Vox:
“The new bill would allow the US to sanction any company involved in the maintenance or development of Russia’s energy export pipelines. That could cripple the construction of a colossal natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany known as Nord Stream 2, which is owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom but also has European investors.”
Despite the fact that the new bill was intended to make it more difficult for the president to reverse Obama-era sanctions by enshrining them in law, the White House has announced that the president will support the new sanctions.
The Russian response will cut a bulk of the American diplomatic workers currently employed in Moscow and elsewhere which is estimated to be in the range of 1,200 people.
According to the BBC that number is so high because there are a wide range of areas in which the United States cooperates with Russia, but there are also an unconfirmed number which could be operating in a more covert nature.
“Some of them work on agricultural, scientific and public-health initiatives that, for example, help to protect rare wildlife and combat infectious diseases. Some work in Russia for other government agencies, as the CIA and US intelligence agencies are euphemistically known.”
While some may be suspected of working for intelligence agencies, a 2013 report from the inspector general finds nearly 1,000 of those employees were locally recruited. Still, the large cuts to the workforce will certainly have an effect on the ability of the embassy to operate.
Part of America’s sanctions require Russia to reduce its staff in Washington to 455 people. From the perspective of RT – a state-run news outlet that is often referred to in the West as Russian propaganda – Putin’s actions were simply a retaliation.
“The number of US diplomatic service staff in Russia was ordered to be reduced in order to equal the number of Russian diplomats in the US by September 1. As of now, it “greatly exceeds” the number of Russia’s embassy staff in the US”.
As of Monday, the Washington Post reported that Vice President Pence, who is on an official trip to Eastern Europe, responded by saying:
“Under President Donald Trump, the United States of America rejects any attempt to use force, threats, intimidation, or malign influence in the Baltic States or against any of our treaty allies,” Pence said Monday morning, speaking alongside three Baltic leaders at the Estonian president’s office here. “To be clear, we hope for better days, for better relations with Russia, but recent diplomatic action taken by Moscow will not deter the commitment of the United States of America to our security, the security of our allies, and the security of freedom loving nations around the world.”
A Russian foreign affairs analyst, Vladimir Frolov, told the New York Times that the cuts will not affect the American embassy’s major functions and instead will lay off a lot a Russian citizens.
“They will have to fire the Russian citizens, [i]t will create an enormous inconvenience for the U.S. Mission here, essentially slowing down the work but not affecting its core functions.”