Tensions between Washington and Moscow are bound to increase after President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that 755 U.S. diplomats will have to leave Russia by September 1. Moscow had already announced it would be expelling diplomats in retaliation for a measure approved by Congress earlier this week that expands sanctions against Russia, but Sunday marked the first official confirmation of how many of them would be forced to leave the country. Why 755? Russia wants the number of American diplomats in Russia to be the same as the number of Russian diplomats in the United States. Russia is also seizing two U.S. diplomatic properties.
Explaining the reasoning behind the retaliation during a television interview on Sunday, Putin said his government has gotten tired of waiting for relations with Washington to improve. “We’ve been waiting for quite a long time that maybe something would change for the better, we had hopes that the situation would change. But it looks like, it’s not going to change in the near future,” Putin said. “I decided that it is time for us to show that we will not leave anything unanswered.”
Earlier on Sunday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the fresh sanctions against Russia amounted to the “last drop” and promised that Moscow would retaliate “in kind,” emphasizing the Kremlin had waited long enough. “I think retaliation is long, long overdue,” Ryabkov said on ABC’s This Week. “We have a very rich toolbox at our disposal.” Although President Donald Trump initially expressed opposition to the new sanctions, the White House said he will be signing the measure into law. Even if his administration dislikes the bill it was approved with only a handful of objections, meaning Congress could have easily overriden any veto. (“Evidently, about the only thing that has wide bipartisan support on Capitol Hill right now is the notion that Trump can’t be trusted to cut deals with the Russians,” noted Slate’s Joshua Keating on Friday.)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Saturday that he was optimistic the new sanctions could be the starting point of an improved relationship with Moscow. “The near unanimous votes for the sanctions legislation in Congress represent the strong will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States,” Tillerson said in a statement. “We hope that there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues and these sanctions will no longer be necessary.”
The Russian Embassy in Washington made clear that Moscow sees things very differently: “Washington still doesn’t get the fact that pressure never works against @Russia, bilateral relations can hardly be improved by sanctions.”