Russia ordered the U.S. to cut its embassy and other personnel in the country and ousted it from properties in Moscow, retaliating angrily to the passage late Thursday of a new sanctions bill in the U.S. Congress.
“The passage of the new law on sanctions shows with all obviousness that relations with Russia have become hostage to the domestic political battle within the U.S.,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement announcing the moves. “The latest events show that in well-known circles in the United States, Russophobia and a course toward open confrontation with our country have taken hold.”
Late Thursday, the Senate voted 98-2 for a bill passed earlier by the House that strengthens existing sanctions on Russia and gives Congress the power to block President Donald Trump from lifting them. The White House has given mixed messages about whether Trump will sign the legislation at a time when his presidential campaign is under investigation over possible collusion with Moscow.
Russia had originally threatened the ouster of diplomats and seizure of property in December after the U.S. ordered 35 Russian envoys out of the U.S. and seized two embassy compounds outside New York and Washington in protest of alleged Russian meddling in the election. But President Vladimir Putin at the time delayed the retaliatory steps in what officials said was an olive branch to the incoming Trump administration.
But the Kremlin’s hopes for better relations under Trump haven’t materialized as the probes of alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. vote have widened in recent months. The first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin, in Hamburg, Germany, earlier this month, failed to yield a breakthrough.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin didn’t wait for Trump’s reaction to the sanctions bill because “the form in which it emerged from the Senate had greater significance.” In effect, he said, it’s “almost final.”
It wasn’t immediately clear how many U.S. personnel would have to leave under the new order. The Foreign Ministry said that the U.S. had until Sept. 1 to bring the total number of diplomatic and technical personnel in Russia to 455, the same number as it said Russia has in the U.S. The ministry also ousted the U.S. from a recreation retreat and warehouse in Moscow. Russia said it reserved the right to take further measures if the U.S. retaliates.
The U.S. bill, which also imposes new sanctions on Iran and North Korea, had been delayed while lawmakers resolved procedural issues and revised language that energy companies said would prevent many overseas deals.
The Russia sanctions in H.R. 3364 are an unusual signal of disapproval of Trump from congressional Republicans. Lawmakers say they want to prevent the president from acting on his own to lift penalties imposed by the previous administration for meddling in last year’s U.S. election and for aggression in Ukraine. House and Senate committees and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are examining possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The legislation puts Trump in a difficult position. Signing the measure would dilute his power. But rejecting it could lead to an embarrassing veto override, as the bill cleared both chambers by wide margins, and lead to criticism that he’s seeking to protect Russia.
An official in the White House wouldn’t say whether Trump would sign it, saying only that they are reviewing the bill and that the administration supports sanctions against the three countries.