Russia Set to Expel 35 U.S. Diplomats
Russia is set to expel 35 U.S. diplomats in retaliation for outgoing American President Barack Obama’s ejection of the same number of Russian diplomatic staff over cyberattacks allegedly backed by the Kremlin and aimed at interfering with the 2016 election campaign, according to Bloomberg.
“We can’t, of course, leave such steps without a response,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said while asking President Vladimir Putin to approve the tit-for-tat move in a televised meeting. “Reciprocity is a law of diplomacy and international relations.”
The Russian government has accused the outgoing U.S. administration of spending its last weeks in power trying to sabotage President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to seek better relations with the Kremlin. Trump has said he wants to cooperate with Putin in fighting terrorism and may review sanctions that Obama imposed over Russia’s involvement in a conflict in Ukraine.
Lavrov proposed the expulsion of 31 U.S. diplomats in Moscow and four in St. Petersburg, to match the 31 Russian embassy officials in Washington and four consular staff in San Francisco that were ordered to leave the country a day earlier. He added that he expects a prompt presidential decision. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Obama described the 35 Russians ejected from the U.S. as intelligence operatives working under diplomatic cover. The U.S. also imposed sanctions on top intelligence officials and said it shut down two Russian compounds, one in Maryland and another in New York, used for “intelligence-related purposes.” Russia, which has denied it was behind the hacking, will ban the U.S. from using a recreational site outside Moscow and a warehouse in the Russian capital, Lavrov said.
As part of the U.S. administration’s response, the FBI and Homeland Security Department also released a report with technical evidence intended to prove Russia’s military and civilian intelligence services were behind the hacking and to expose some of their most sensitive hacking infrastructure. The report dubs the Russian operation “Grizzly Steppe.”
A White House official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said Obama’s successor could reverse the executive actions but suggested Trump may not want to be in the position of letting Russian spies return and giving Moscow a green light to meddle in European and U.S. politics. The U.S. has indications that Russia will try to interfere with elections on all levels, the official said.