Monday July 31, 2017
Last autumn, as the Obama administration considered mass expulsions of Russian diplomats from the US in response to the burgeoning Russiagate scandal, John Tefft – the US ambassador to Russia – is reported to have warned against taking this step. Tefft’s reasons for opposing it were that the likely strong response from the Russians, which would lead to expulsions of US diplomats from Russia, would threaten the effective work of the US embassy in Moscow and of the US consulates in Russia.
The Obama administration in the end failed to heed Tefft’s warning. Though in the event the Russians in December stayed their hand as they waited to see what the new Trump administration would bring, now that the US Congress has voted to increase the sanctions on Russia and with the return of seized Russian diplomatic properties in the US ruled out, the Russians have finally responded. Their response must however go beyond Tefft’s worst fears
The Russians order to the US to reduce the staff at their embassy and consulates in Russia by 755 persons is in fact unprecedented. As the BBC rightly says, though a large part of the reduction will no doubt be accounted for by non-diplomatic staff, the Russian announcement still constitutes what is by far the single biggest expulsion of diplomats in modern history
The decision to expel staff was made on Friday, but Mr Putin has now confirmed the number who must go by 1 September.Moreover the Russian decision now establishes the principle that the number of personnel at US embassies and consulates in Russia will in future be held to the same level – currently 455 – as the number of personnel at Russian embassies and consulates in the US.
It brings staff levels to 455, the same as Russia’s complement in Washington.
This is thought to be the largest expulsion of diplomats from any country in modern history, says the BBC’s Laura Bicker in Washington.
The number includes Russian employees of the US diplomatic missions across Russia, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Moscow adds.
Staff in the embassy in Moscow as well as the consulates in Ekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St Petersburg are affected, she says.