Russia's Foreign Ministry on Friday ordered a reduction in the number of U.S. diplomats in Russia and said it was closing down a U.S. recreation retreat in response to fresh sanctions against Russia.
The U.S. Senate approved a new package of stiff financial sanctions Friday against Russia, Iran and North Korea and sent it to President Donald Trump to sign. The legislation bars Trump from easing or waiving the penalties on Russia unless Congress agrees. The legislation is aimed at punishing Moscow for interfering in the 2016 presidential election and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar Assad.
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced in a statement on Friday that in response it is ordering the U.S. Embassy in Russia to reduce the number of its diplomats by Sept. 1. Russia will also close down the embassy's recreational retreat on the outskirts of Moscow as well as warehouse facilities.
The ministry said the number was being cut to 455 diplomats. U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Maria Olson could not immediately say what kind of cut would have to be made to meet Russia's new requirements.
Olson said Ambassador John Tefft "expressed his strong disappointment and protest" with the move and passed the Russian government's notification to Washington for review.
Relations between Russia and the United States dropped to a post-Cold War low following Russia's annexation of Crimea and interference in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election have put a damper on hopes for better ties that the Kremlin pinned on Trump's presidency.
The new package of sanctions aims to hit President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle by targeting alleged corrupt officials, human rights abusers and crucial sectors of the Russian economy, including weapons sales and energy exports.
The bill underwent revisions to address concerns voiced by American oil and natural gas companies that sanctions specific to Russia's energy sector could backfire on them to Moscow's benefit. Lawmakers said they also made adjustments so the sanctions on Russia's energy sector didn't undercut the ability of U.S. allies in Europe to get access to oil and gas resources outside of Russia.
Russia's Foreign Ministry dismissed the new sanctions as "creating unfair competitive advantages for the U.S. economy."
"This kind of blackmail aimed at restricting the cooperation between Russia and other nations is a threat for many countries and global businesses," the statement said.
Russia's response mirrors moves by outgoing President Barack Obama last December to expel 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two Russian estates in the U.S.
Moscow said it would cut the U.S. diplomatic corps even further if the U.S. decides to expel more Russian diplomats.
The Kremlin had previously said that it would not impose any sanctions on the U.S. until Trump signs the bill.
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