Russia has ordered the expulsion of hundreds of US diplomats and the seizure of two embassy compounds in retaliation for new sanctions approved by the Senate earlier this week.
Diplomatic corps in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok must downsize to 455 staff members – the same number at the Russian embassy in the US – by Sept. 1, the Russian foreign ministry said.
It was not immediately clear how many staff members would have to be expelled.
According to a Reuters report citing an unnamed embassy official, there are currently 1,100 Americans and Russians on staff at the US embassy, while Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency suggested there are 600-700 staff members.
Neither the US embassy nor the Russian foreign ministry responded to requests for clarification.
“We have received the Russian government notification. Ambassador [John] Tefft expressed his strong disappointment and protest. We have passed the notification back to Washington for review,” US embassy spokesperson Maria Olson told The Telegraph.
In an elaborate statement posted on her Facebook page, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova called the US media “zombified” for not knowing how many people work in the US embassy in Russia. She added that the ministry was waiting for a response on how many diplomatic staff are based in Russia.
Russia also said it would seize a Moscow-based “dacha” compound and US diplomatic warehouse facilities from Aug. 1 in the preemptive measures against the sanctions, which still have to be approved or vetoed by President Donald Trump.
“Despite constant attacks from Washington we have behaved responsibly and reservedly, having ignored obvious provocations thus far. But recent events mean that certain circles in the United States opted for Russophobia…