Russia orders US diplomats to leave as Ukraine tensions escalate
US embassy staff who have been in Moscow for more than three years were being ordered to fly home by January 31
Tensions between Russia and the United States have further soured a day before top officials from both countries are set to meet, with Moscow moving to expel US diplomats.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that US embassy staff who have been in Moscow for more than three years were being ordered to fly home by January 31, an apparently retaliatory move.
Russia’s ambassador to the US said last week that 27 Russian diplomats and their families were being expelled from the country and would leave on January 30.
“We … intend to respond in the corresponding way,” foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told a briefing.
The developments came ahead of an anticipated meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation on Europe (OSCE) summit in Stockholm on Thursday – and against the backdrop of Washington-led NATO talks on Ukraine.
Russia’s RIA news agency cited Zakharova as saying that new US rules meant Russian diplomats who had been forced to leave the country were also banned from working as diplomats there for three years.
The US embassy in Moscow is the last operational US mission in the country, which has shrunk to 120 staff from about 1,200 in early 2017, Washington says.
Further reductions in US embassy staff would put pressure on an operation that Washington has previously described as being close to a “caretaker presence”.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow would halt its plan if Washington abandoned its moves.