Russia may force US to cut diplomatic staff more, Putin says

The closing of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco has been a part of the US-Russia diplomatic spat.

Story highlights

  • Putin: "We are not going to do this now. We will see how the situation develops"
  • Remarks are the latest in a series of tense diplomatic exchanges between US, Russia

(CNN)Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow may force the United States to cut an additional 155 of its diplomatic personnel in Russia if tensions persist between the two countries.

"We reserve the right to further reduce the number of US diplomats in Moscow," Putin told reporters at the summit of the BRICS nations in southern China. "But we are not going to do this now. We will see how the situation develops."
    Putin's remarks Tuesday are the latest in a series of tense diplomatic exchanges between the two nations following US allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
    Last week the Trump administration announced it was shuttering the Russian Consulate in San Francisco as well as annexes in Washington and New York in response to mandated staff cuts at the US mission in Russia.
    The American plan to close the three diplomatic facilities followed Moscow's order for almost half of US personnel to leave their positions in Russia and the seizure of two US diplomatic properties in response to expanded sanctions passed by Congress.
    "The fact that Americans have reduced the number of diplomatic representations in the US, well it is their right, but it was done not in a polite manner and that does not give credit to our American partners," Putin said Tuesday.
    Putin apparently came up with the 155 figure because he said that 155 of Russia's staff in the United States were "not really diplomats" but part of its UN mission in New York.
    In July, Putin sought to reduce the number of US diplomats in Russia to 455, a figure equal to the number of Russian diplomats now in the United States, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
    The Russian leader also said Tuesday he could sue US authorities over violating Russian property rights.
    "This was unprecedented, and I was a graduate of St. Petersburg University school of law, I can tell you that (the) American side has taken away the right to use our property. And this is (a) violation of our rights," Putin said. "I think to start with, we should go to court and we should go see how effectively (the) American court system works."

    US 'prepared to take further action'

    In a statement last week announcing the US plan to close the Russian facilities, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, "The United States has fully implemented the decision by the Government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia. We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries.
    "In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians," she continued, "we are requiring the Russian government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City."
    Nauert also noted the United States was allowing Russia to maintain additional annexes "in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship" but was "prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted."

    Obama expulsions

    In late 2016, President Barack Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and the seizure of two Russian government compounds in response to alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election.
    At the time, the Kremlin announced it would not retaliate immediately, but rather, consider further action "based on the policies of the Trump administration."