Russian ministry announces plans to expel 35 US diplomats in tit-for-tat move

Foreign minister recommends expulsions to Vladimir Putin, one day after US sanctions announced over allegations of interference in election

Russian ministry recommends expelling 35 US diplomats in tit-for-tat move
TV crews outside the Russian embassy in Washington.
Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Images

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Russian ministry announces plans to expel 35 US diplomats in tit-for-tat move” was written by Shaun Walker in Moscow, Lauren Gambino and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington, for theguardian.com on Friday 30th December 2016 12.21 UTC

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced plans to expel 35 US diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to the US decision to kick out the same number of Russian officials over allegations of interference in the US presidential election.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said he was recommending the expulsions to President Vladimir Putin. Lavrov said 31 diplomats would be removed from the US embassy in Moscow, and four from the country’s consulate in St Petersburg, agencies reported. “Reciprocity is the law in diplomacy and international relations,” he said.

There was no immediate confirmation that Putin had accepted the proposal, but Lavrov said he expected a decision to be taken quickly.

In response to US authorities denying Russia access to two compounds allegedly used for espionage activities, Lavrov also suggested cutting off US use of a warehouse building in Moscow and an embassy dacha on the outskirts of the Russian capital.

In contrast to the huge Russian recreational compound in Maryland, with bungalows, swimming pools and numerous tennis courts, the US dacha at Serebryanny Bor is a modest affair, according to people who have visited.

“It was like a 1970s scouts hut, not at all luxurious,” said one person who attended a private party at the dacha. “It had a grubby pine floor and a couple of bedrooms, it didn’t look remotely like an embassy-level building. I can’t imagine many diplomats will miss it.”

The compound includes an outdoor, wooded area where diplomats and affiliated US organisations often hold summer parties. There were three police cars outside on Friday, and no sign of anyone inside, according to a Russian television crew at the scene.

US intelligence services believe Russia ordered cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other political organisations, in an attempt to influence the election in favour of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

The US move, announced on Thursday, involved the sanctioning of Russia’s GRU and FSB intelligence services, individuals and companies linked to them, and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats the US believes are engaging in espionage. They were given 72 hours to leave the country.

Obama said Americans should “be alarmed by Russia’s actions”. He added that more actions would be taken, “some of which will not be publicised”.

Diplomatic expulsions are normally met with reciprocal action. In 2001, the George W Bush administration kicked out 51 Russian diplomats it said were spies. Russia responded by telling 50 US diplomats to leave Russia.

 

Russia, which has repeatedly denied the hacking allegations, reacted furiously to Obama’s measures.

Overnight, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova launched a stinging attack on the outgoing US administration, writing on Facebook: “The people who have spent eight years in the White House are not an administration, they are a group of foreign policy losers, embittered and short-sighted. Today, Obama officially proved this.”

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying the US move represented “the death throes of political corpses”.

The Twitter feed of the Russian embassy in London, meanwhile, called the Obama administration “hapless” and attached a picture of a duck with the word “lame” emblazoned across it.

A Russian diplomatic source told Interfax that the US move was “completely unexpected” and many of the diplomats had been preparing to celebrate New Year’s Eve, the biggest Russian holiday. Many were struggling to find tickets back to Russia, as planes were full because of the holiday season, the source said.

On Thursday, Trump, who has previously dismissed reports of Russian interference in the election, said: “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”

He added, however, that “in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation”.

In a conference call with reporters, senior White House officials said the president-elect’s transition team had been informed of the sanctions before they were announced on Thursday. Trump and Obama spoke on Wednesday, they said.

The officials added that the actions were a necessary response to “very disturbing Russian threats to US national security”.

“There has to be a cost and a consequence for what Russia has done,” a senior administration official said. “It is in a extraordinary step for them to interfere in the democratic process here in the United States of America. There needs to be a price for that.”

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