The U.S. will have to cut staff numbers by more than 700 at its diplomatic missions in Russia as a result of an order to slash the size of American representation in retaliation for new sanctions, according to two officials in Moscow.
Russia on Friday ordered the U.S. to reduce diplomatic and technical personnel at its embassy and consulates to 455 by Sept. 1. There are currently about 1,200 such staff, including U.S. diplomats and local Russian employees, said the two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is confidential.
Maria Olson, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Moscow, and the Russian Foreign Ministry declined to comment. Russian state-run Channel One TV reported on Saturday that the U.S. will have to eliminate 745 jobs, without citing anyone, while Kommersant newspaper reported that more than 700 positions must be cut, citing diplomatic sources it didn’t identify.
The decision is a sweeping response to the passage of a new sanctions bill in the U.S. Congress, which President Donald Trump has said he’ll sign. Russia says its action brings U.S. representation to the same level as the number of Russian staff in America. But the numbers being ordered to leave the U.S. missions far exceed the 35 Russian diplomats expelled by the Obama administration in December as punishment for alleged Kremlin meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.
The Russian reaction was harsher than many officials had signaled and threatens to cast the two nuclear-armed powers into a new spiral of tensions even as relations are already at their lowest since the Cold War. For Trump, the worsening conflict poses a dilemma between his oft-stated desire to build ties with Russia and mounting political opposition to that effort in Washington, amid congressional inquiries and an FBI investigation into Russian interference in the elections.
The Foreign Ministry has also ordered the U.S. to vacate a recreational villa and warehouse facilities in Moscow by Tuesday. The U.S. has faced mounting Russian anger over Trump’s failure to return two diplomatic compounds outside New York and Washington that were also seized at the time of the December expulsions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delayed the usual tit-for-tat retaliation at that time in what officials said was an olive branch to the incoming Trump administration.