By Andrew Roth,
MOSCOW — Russia announced Friday it would seize U.S. diplomatic properties and demand that the State Department reduce its staff in Russia, a tit-for-tat punishment that the Russian Foreign Ministry said was spurred by a financial sanctions bill now awaiting a signature from President Trump.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok should reduce the number of their “diplomatic and technical employees” to 455, in apparent parity with the number of Russian diplomatic staff in the United States.
The Foreign Ministry also said it would seize a Moscow warehouse and dacha complex used by the U.S. Embassy.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman could not immediately say how many people worked for the embassy and consulates in Russia, nor what kind of cuts would be required to meet the Russian government’s new requirements.
In December, President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russians described as “intelligence operatives” and seized two Russian diplomatic compounds in retaliation for Russia’s interference in the 2016 residential election. Russia’s Foreign Ministry then recommended that President Vladimir Putin respond in kind by expelling U.S. diplomats. But Putin said he would wait, in an apparent effort to build trust with Trump and hope that the newly elected president would reverse the decision after his inauguration.
Friday’s move by the Russian government, coming the morning after the U.S. Senate approved sweeping sanctions against Russia, as well as North Korea and Iran, signaled that this honeymoon was over. Russia has said it will retaliate against new U.S. sanctions once the final version is signed into law.