Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Tuesday to expel up to 155 more US diplomatic personnel from his country as the diplomatic feud between Washington and Moscow rumbled on.
“We reserve the right to make a decision on how many American diplomats there are in Moscow. But we will not do that for the moment,” Mr Putin told a press conference after a summit of BRICS nations in southern China.
Moscow had previously ordered Washington to reduce its diplomatic presence to 455 people by September 1, the same number that Russia has in the US.
That number, however, includes 155 people who work for Russia’s diplomatic mission to the UN in New York, Mr Putin said, meaning his country could further cut the number of US diplomats to 300: “It’s 455 minus 155.”
On Saturday Russia was forced to vacate its consulate in San Francisco and two diplomatic buildings in New York and Washington after the US ordered the move, the latest twist in a lengthy feud.
Russia demanded Sunday that the US rethink its shuttering of Moscow’s diplomatic premises, insisting that Washington bore sole responsibility for worsening ties after the “hostile act”.
US intelligence agencies have accused Mr Putin of orchestrating a sweeping hacking and influence campaign to tip the November 2016 presidential election in favour of Donald Trump — prompting several investigations, including one led by the FBI.
The move to close the consulate in San Francisco and the two diplomatic annexes in Washington and New York are part of the fallout from the allegations.
In the waning days of his tenure, Barack Obama hit out at Russia by expelling 35 diplomats and closing two of Moscow’s diplomatic compounds in the US.
The Kremlin initially did not retaliate. But when Congress passed new sanctions tying Trump’s hands, Moscow ordered the US to cut its diplomatic mission by 755 staff by September.