-- The U.S. ambassador to Russia has expressed his “strong disappointment and protest” to Russia after it seized two American facilities and called on the U.S. to remove some of its personnel or face expulsion from the country.
The move was Moscow’s way of retaliating one day after the U.S. Senate passed a final sanctions bill that targets Russia, Iran and North Korea, sending it to President Trump’s desk.
“We have received the Russian government notification. Ambassador [John] Tefft expressed his strong disappointment and protest,” a State Department official told ABC News.
In a statement from its Foreign Ministry, Russia said the U.S. must reduce its diplomatic and technical staff to match the number of Russian staff working in America by Sept. 1.
That number is 455, according to Russia, but it is unclear how many Americans are currently serving in Russia. The U.S. embassy in Moscow and the State Department both declined to say. Russian news agency Interfax reported that the U.S. would have to cut “hundreds” of its staff.
The Russian government also seized two American facilities -- a recreational country house outside Moscow and a storage facility in the Russian capital.
Trump now faces an even tougher decision. He has long pushed for better relations with Russia, seeking cooperation on issues like Syria and counterterrorism. He has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as strong and spoken highly of their meeting at the G20 Summit earlier this month.
“Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!” the president tweeted two days after the meeting.
But in a stunning rebuke by his own party in Congress, Trump must now sign or veto a bill that constricts his ability to amend the sanctions policy while under the cloud of three investigations into his team’s alleged ties to Russia.
The White House has not been clear about what the president will do.
Russia still seems to hold out hope for dialogue with Trump, asking for cooperation despite the strong opposition elsewhere in the U.S. government.
“The latest events confirm that certain circles in the U.S. are fixated on Russophobia and open confrontation with our country,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement. “The Russian Federation has been doing everything in its power to improve bilateral relations, to encourage ties and cooperation with the U.S. on the most pressing issues.”
Russia’s action Friday mirrored the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s cyberattack on the Democratic Party and interference in the 2016 presidential election. In December 2016, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and their families and cut off Russian access to two recreational compounds in New York and Maryland, at least one of which was reportedly used for espionage.
The Russian government had promised retaliation if those compounds were not returned, something the Trump administration has been considering as it holds high-level meetings with its Russian counterparts.