US President Donald Trump has thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for demanding the US to cut its diplomatic staff by 755 in Moscow.
In July 2017, the US House and the Senate overwhelmingly voted to impose harsh sanctions on Russia for its alleged role in interfering in the US elections. The bill targets Russian energy, financial, railways, shipping and metals and mining sectors. US President Donald Trump had reluctantly signed the bill into law. He called the legislation “significantly flawed” and “unconstitutional.” This was partly because the bill undercut the powers of the president by giving Congress new veto power to block any easing of those sanctions.
Putin has repeatedly denied Russia’s role in the US elections. After the sanctions were approved, Moscow reacted by ordering the US to remove 755 diplomatic staff working in Russia. This would also include the Russian locals who were on the US payroll. According to Putin, there are currently over 1,000 employees – diplomats and technical workers – in Russia. That number would decrease to 455.
Trump has drawn criticism within the US for trying to seek warm relations with Russia. There is an ongoing investigation to determine whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the elections.
The US President, currently on a 17-day “working” vacation, spoke to reporters at his Bedminster National Golf Club. During the conversation, he said that he was grateful to Putin for cutting down the American payroll. He said, “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll. There’s no real reason for them to go back. I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.”
These remarks are in contrast to the response from the US State Department. A US official had reacted to Russia’s actions deeming them “a regrettable and uncalled-for act.”
Additionally, while some of the Russians on the US government payroll would lose their jobs, the US diplomats would simply be re-assigned. Ben Rhodes, the former foreign policy advisor and speechwriter to President Obama took to Twitter to note, “All of those diplomats are still on USG payroll. They're just unable to advance US interests in Russia.”
Media reports have also quoted current and former US diplomats that have condemned the remarks. Harvard University professor Nicholas Burns, who was ambassador to NATO and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs under President George W. Bush reacted noting, “As a Foreign Service veteran, I find it lamentable that our great career diplomats are treated with such disrespect by their President.”
Our assessment is that with these remarks, Trump risks alienating not only career diplomats but also members of his own Republican party who are critical of Russia.