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Putin Says Russia May Order U.S. To Cut Further Diplomatic Staff


Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference after the BRICS summit in Xiamen, China, on September 5.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference after the BRICS summit in Xiamen, China, on September 5.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says that his country reserves the right to demand further reductions in the number of U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia but will not immediately call for further cuts.

Speaking to reporters following a summit of the BRICS countries in China, Putin said on September 5 that Moscow will "see how the situation develops" before making a decision regarding the number of U.S. diplomats in Russia.

Denouncing what he called Washington's "boorish and unprecedented" actions toward Russia's diplomatic facilities in the United States, Putin said that he will order the Foreign Ministry to take the U.S. authorities to court over what he said was a violation of Russia's property rights.

A senior U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told news media late on September 5 that Washington hopes to avoid further retaliatory actions with Moscow, but is "confident in the legality" of the U.S. order for Russia to vacate the Russian Consulate in San Francisco and trade annexes in Washington and New York by September 2.

The official said that under international law, countries can only establish diplomatic posts when the host country consents. The United States has now withdrawn its consent for Russia's San Francisco post, the official said.

The department said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the matter during a telephone call on September 5.

The State Department made that demand after Moscow ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic personnel in Russia to 455 by September 1, which Putin said meant cutting 755 personnel, in retaliation for a new U.S. law that strengthened U.S. sanctions against Russia.

In his remarks on September 5, Putin suggested that Russia could demand the United States reduce the number of diplomatic personnel by a further 155, down to 300. He said that would produce truer parity between the two countries because, by his account, 155 of the 455 Russian diplomatic personnel in the United States work in connection with the United Nations.

"Strictly speaking, if we are talking about full parity, there should be not 455 U.S. diplomats in [Russia] but [455] minus 155. So, we reserve the right to take the decision also on the number of U.S. diplomats, but we won't do this now," Putin said. "We'll look how the situation develops further."

The United States has imposed sanctions against Russia following its illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March 2014 and its backing of separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Relations between Moscow and Washington are also severely strained over Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 election that put President Donald Trump in office.

The U.S. intelligence community issued an assessment in January that Putin ordered an "influence campaign" targeting the U.S. election, with goals that included undermining trust in the U.S. electoral process and denigrating Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. It said that Putin's government developed a clear preference for Trump, who said during the campaign that he would seek closer cooperation with Moscow.

Amid U.S. Justice Department and congressional investigations into the alleged meddling and any collusion between Russia and associates of Trump, the Kremlin's hopes for an improvement in relations under Trump have been substantially dampened, with both sides saying ties remain severely strained.

Putin dismissed a question about whether he was disappointed with a wry remark, saying that he and Trump were not newlyweds.

"Your question is very naive," Putin said. "After all, he is not my bride, and I am not his groom -- we are statesmen."

Putin refrained from criticizing Trump and voiced confidence that the United States and Russia could find some common ground, contending that this was crucial for international security.

"In doing what he does, Trump is guided by the national interests of his country, as I am following the interests of my country," he said. "I very much expect that we will manage to find some compromises while resolving bilateral and global issues, so that they are resolved in the interests of the U.S. and Russian people, as well as in the interests of many other countries, bearing in mind our great responsibility for global security."

Russia denies meddling the U.S. election, despite powerful evidence, and Trump denies that there was any collusion between his campaign or transition team and Russia.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, TASS, and Interfax
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