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Russia: Moscow Expels 2 U.S. Officials; Washington Downplays Move

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government says Russia has expelled two U.S. military attaches. The order follows the expulsion of two Russians from Washington in the past six months.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and Russia's embassy in Washington have both declined to comment on the orders. The U.S. Defense Department also would not speak of the matter. But U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack played down the importance of the expulsions. He said the latest move by Russia was not meant to even the score after the United States expelled one Russian defense official in November, and a second one last month.

"[The Russians] gave us some reasons [for the expulsions]," McCormack said. "We believe that the expulsions were not justified, but as we all know in the world of diplomacy, sometimes these things happen. They happen from time to time."

McCormack declined to say what reasons Russia gave for its expulsion order, adding that Washington doesn't plan any retaliatory measures.

"As far as we're concerned, we don't intend to take any further actions," McCormack said. "Of course, we always reserve the right [to take further action]. But at this point, I don't see that we're going to take any further action in response."

Relations between the two nations have been strained in the past few years. U.S. President George W. Bush began his presidency by declaring his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to be a trustworthy friend. But Bush and Putin -- who stepped down as Russian president on May 7 -- had serious disagreements subsequently. They ranged from the U.S. criticisms of Moscow's human-rights record to U.S. efforts to expand the NATO military alliance by backing membership bids by countries once in Moscow's sphere of influence.

McCormack said the expulsions don't reflect a growing hostility between the two countries, however.

"It's a very substantial relationship in terms of the area that the -- the policy areas that [the relationship] covers. Like I said, these things happen from time to time. Would everybody rather that they not? Of course. But they happen from time to time," McCormack said. "But, as I said, this is a very broad and deep relationship. I think everybody feels as though we are able to do our diplomatic work despite these recent incidents."

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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