Russia is considering reducing the number of personnel working at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow if the United States doesn’t return two diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York, Foreign Ministry officials said Friday.
In December, the Obama administration shut down two diplomatic missions and expelled 35 Russian diplomats. Former President Barack Obama acted after U.S. intelligence sources accused Russia of hacking into Democratic Party computers in an attempt to weaken Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova urged the United States to return the properties and reinstate personnel in order to build relations at a briefing Friday. She also criticized the United States for not issuing visas to diplomats who are supposed to replaced the expelled staff.
“If there is no progress, we will have to take retaliatory measures,” Zakharova said. “As for the measures — the number of personnel at the U.S. embassy in Moscow significantly exceeds the number of our personnel working in Washington. So, one of the options is that, apart from expelling the corresponding number of U.S. diplomats, we will just have to even the number of personnel.”
Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, on Thursday said it was time for the two countries to “move on” from allegations of election interference. He told CNN the White House was considering what to do regarding the diplomatic compounds in order to improve that relationship.
“We want to give collaboration, cooperation, a chance,” Gorka said. “The fact is we may not share the same philosophy. We may not share the same type of statesman view of the world. But the fact is there are some issues of common concern.”
On the same day, though, four Democratic senators sent a letter to State Department Undersecretary Tom Shannon, urging the department to keep the compounds closed.
“We strongly urge the State Department not to return the diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York to the Government of the Russian Federation at this time,” they wrote. “Simply put, the Russian government has done nothing to deserve renewed access to these compounds.”
Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland signed the letter.
On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Russia was considering reprisals, but kept the details secret.
“This situation is outrageous,” he said. “I believe it’s a shame on such a great country as the United States, the international law advocate, to leave the situation in limbo.
By Danielle Haynes