Russia warns US of retaliation over Obama-era expulsions

A Russian diplomatic compound, seized by the US in connection with suspected Russian hacking activities, sits abandoned in New York.
A Russian diplomatic compound, seized by the US in connection with suspected Russian hacking activities, sits abandoned in New York.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Moscow may expel 30 American diplomats, seize US property if issue is not resolved, sources say

BRUSSELS • Russia is considering retaliatory measures against the United States over its expulsion of 35 diplomats and seizure of two diplomatic compounds last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.

The threat of action represents a change in stance from the Kremlin, as Russia initially chose not to respond to the steps taken by then outgoing US president Barack Obama last December.

The subject, however, came up during US President Donald Trump's first face-to-face meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin last week.

Mr Obama closed Russian facilities in New York and Maryland in response to purported cyber-hacking attacks targeting parts of the US government, infrastructure, think-tanks and political organisations.

The Russian diplomats and their families were given 72 hours to leave.

If Washington decides not to resolve the issue, "we will have to take counter actions, and this is the rule of diplomacy, of reciprocity, of international affairs", Mr Lavrov said in Brussels.

"We are still hopeful that the US, as a proponent of the rule of law, will finally respect international obligations," the Russian minister added, during a press conference with European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini.

But the resurfacing of the expulsions row comes amid a much larger focus on alleged Russian meddling in last year's US election campaign, which is the subject of major investigations in Washington.

Russian newspaper Izvestia said on Monday, citing sources, that Moscow may expel 30 American diplomats and seize US property in the country.

Mr Putin last December ruled out kicking out American diplomats, a move interpreted as Moscow's intention to build ties with a new White House administration over the alleged cyber hacking, dubbed Grizzly Steppe by US officials.

Mr Trump himself hailed Mr Putin's restraint - he even invited US diplomats' families to a party in the Kremlin - as a "great move" and "very smart".

However, Russia wants to regain its properties in the US and the subject was on the agenda of Mr Putin's meeting with Mr Trump at the G-20 summit in Hamburg last week, according to the Kremlin.

The US Senate last month approved additional sanctions on Russia aimed at punishing Moscow for alleged election interference. Mr Lavrov warned that those steps threatened "the whole relationship" between Russia and the US.

The sanctions led Moscow to cancel a meeting in June between US Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

However, the two are reportedly planning to meet next week instead.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Russia warns US of retaliation over Obama-era expulsions'. Print Edition | Subscribe