MOSCOW – Agence France-Presse
President Vladimir Putin has said the United States would have to cut 755 diplomatic staff in Russia
and warned of a prolonged gridlock in its ties after the U.S. Congress backed new sanctions against the Kremlin.
Putin added bluntly that Russia
was able to raise the stakes with America
even further, although he hoped this would be unnecessary.
A U.S. State Department official denounced the move as a “regrettable and uncalled for act,” adding that Washington was now weighing a potential response.
On July 28, the Russian
foreign ministry demanded Washington cut its diplomatic presence in Russia
by Sept. 1 to 455 people -- the same number Moscow has in the U.S.
“More than a thousand people -- diplomats and technical personnel -- were working and are still working” at the U.S. embassy and consulates, Putin said in an interview with Rossia-24 television.
“755 people must stop their activities in Russia.”
State Department would not confirm the number of U.S. officials serving at the mission.
Putin added that an upturn in Russia’s relations with Washington could not be expected “any time soon.”
“We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better,” he said.
“But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it’s not for any time soon.”
Putin warned that Russia
could further ratchet up the pressure, but he hoped this would not be needed.
Russia still “has things to say and is able to further restrict areas of common activities, which may be sensitive for the American
side,” he said.
If the damage inflicted by “attempts to pressure Russia” rises further, “we are able to look at other forms of retaliation. But I hope we won’t have to do it,” he said.
“For the time being, I am against” any additional riposte, Putin said.
On July 27, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to toughen sanctions on Russia
for allegedly meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Iran
and North Korea are also targeted in the sanctions bill.
The law now goes to President Donald Trump who had made an improvement in ties with Russia
a plank of his election campaign -- a position that his critics said was inexplicable.