Russian President, Vladimir Putin has announced that 755 US diplomats would have to leave Russia by September 1, 2017.
This is in retaliation to the US Congress passing a bill imposing hard sanctions on Russia.
According to US intelligence agencies, Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential elections. The country is reported to have carried out an “influence campaign” against Hillary Clinton. It hacked the servers of the Democratic National Committee and sent the contents of those emails to Wikileaks. It also hacked the private email of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. Wikileaks, in turn, released that content to the public.
US President, Donald Trump has been enigmatic in blaming Russia for the cyber-attacks. He has said that other countries could have been part of this hack as well. There is also an ongoing Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation looking into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
The US House of Representatives had overwhelmingly voted to impose harsh sanctions on Russia for its alleged role. The sanctions have been condemned by the European Union as it may affect companies in the EU with vested interests in Russia. The bill targets Russian energy, financial, railways, shipping and metals and mining sectors.
Putin has repeatedly denied Russia’s role in the US elections. When the bill was passed by the US Congress, he threatened that Russia would “retaliate”. It was at first unclear if the White House would sign the bill into law, as Trump had expressed doubts. However, after reviewing the final version, Trump indicated that he would be signing the bill. The bill also undercuts the powers of the president as it gives Congress new veto power to block any easing of those sanctions.
In an interview with Vesti TV Putin said that he does not believe relations between US and Russia would get better soon. “We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change. But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon. Over 1,000 employees — diplomats and technical workers — worked and continue to work today in Russia; 755 will have to stop this activity.”
Russia has also announced that it will be seizing two US diplomatic properties. The number of US diplomats and Russian nationals employed by the US government will decrease to 455 after September.
Our assessment is that relations between US and Russia have deteriorated to perhaps how it used to be during Cold War era. Trump has sought warmer ties with Russia but Putin’s actions have made it clear that unless US backs down entirely, there will be no thawing in relations. What would worry Trump more is further response by Putin against the US sanctions.