MOSCOW (AP) — Russia warned Wednesday that a number of U.S. diplomats will have to leave Russia before the end of next month, the latest salvo in a diplomatic tug-of-war between Moscow and Washington.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said those U.S. Embassy personnel who would have spent more than three years in Russia would have to leave Russia by Jan. 31.
She said the Russian demand mirrors U.S. actions that would make 55 Russian diplomats to leave. “We see the American demand as an expulsion and will respond in kind,” Zakharova said.
The Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said last week that 27 Russian diplomats will have to leave by Jan. 30, followed by an equal number half a year later. He rejected the U.S. State Department's argument that the Russian diplomats will have to leave because their visas are expiring, saying that Washington's refusal to extend their visas effectively amounted to the diplomats' expulsion.
Antonov urged the U.S. to roll back several waves of mutual restrictions on the countries' diplomats and “return to normal practice of diplomatic missions' work.”
On Wednesday, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Ryabkov described Washington's move as an effective “destruction of diplomatic missions.”
“They just go head-on, continuing attempts to exert pressure,” he said about the U.S. “That language of ultimatums that the Americans also use in other spheres of our relations is unacceptable for us. We will respond in kind."
Russia and the U.S. have exchanged several rounds of diplomats expulsions and took other steps restricting the activities of their respective diplomatic missions over the past years as relations between Moscow and Washington sank to post-Cold War lows over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, its interference in U.S. elections, its hacking attacks and other irritants.
As part of trading diplomatic blows, Russia banned the U.S. Embassy from hiring local residents. The Embassy said the move forced it to reduce its consular workforce by 75% and cut most U.S. citizen services as well as non-immigrant visa processing for non-diplomatic travel.