Russian decision to cut 755 embassy staff 'regrettable:' US official

President Vladimir Putin said the US would have to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755 people and that Russia could consider imposing additional measures against the US as a response to new US sanctions approved by Congress.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking at a news conference after the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 8, 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking at a news conference after the G20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, on July 8, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States decries as "regrettable" Russia's decision to cut 755 diplomatic staff, and is now weighing its options, a State Department official said on Sunday.

"This is a regrettable and uncalled for act," the official said. "We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it."

President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said the US would have to cut 755 diplomatic staff in Russia and warned of a prolonged gridlock in its ties after the US Congress backed new sanctions against the Kremlin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday it would be up to Washington to choose which of its diplomatic staff in Russia would be cut. He said that Russian citizens working for the US embassy could be among the 755 staff to go, as well as US diplomats.

Putin added bluntly that Russia was able to raise the stakes with America even further, although he hoped this would be unnecessary.

On Friday, the Russian foreign ministry demanded Washington cut its diplomatic presence in Russia by Sept 1 to 455 people - the same number Moscow has in the US. "More than a thousand people - diplomats and technical personnel - were working and are still working" at the US embassy and consulates, Putin said in an interview with Rossia-24 television. "755 people must stop their activities in Russia."

Putin added that an upturn in Russia's relations with Washington could not be expected "any time soon". "We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better," he said. "But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it's not for any time soon."

Putin warned that Russia could further ratchet up the pressure, but he hoped this would not be needed.

Russia still "has things to say and is able to further restrict areas of common activities, which may be sensitive for the American side," he said.

If the damage inflicted by "attempts to pressure Russia" rises further, "we are able to look at other forms of retaliation. But I hope we won't have to do it," he said.

"For the time being, I am against" any additional riposte, Putin said.

On Thursday, the US Senate overwhelmingly approved a Bill to toughen sanctions on Russia for allegedly meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Iran and North Korea are also targeted in the sanctions Bill.

Peskov told reporters on a conference call that Moscow did not wait until President Donald Trump signs the new sanctions into law because “there was no point in waiting” after the legislation was adopted in Congress.