Russia expels US embassy staff, sets January 31 deadline

Russia said Wednesday it was ordering US embassy staff, who have been in Moscow for more than three years, to return home by Jan. 31. The move comes in retaliation for what Moscow said was the US decision to limit Russian diplomats’ terms.

The step, the latest in a growing diplomatic row, comes after Russia’s ambassador to the United States said last week that 27 Russian diplomats and their families were being expelled from the United States and would leave on January 30.

“We … intend to respond accordingly. US Embassy employees who have been in Moscow for more than three years must leave Russia by January 31,” the door-keeper said. Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, during a press briefing.

The RIA news agency quoted her as saying that new US rules meant that Russian diplomats who had been forced out of the United States were also banned from working there as diplomats for three years.

“Before July 1 next year, unless Washington waives the three-year rule and compromises, more (American) workers (to Russia) will leave in proportion to the number of Russians announced by the Department of State,” she said.

There was no immediate comment from the US Embassy in Moscow.

Further staff cuts at the US embassy in Moscow would put pressure on an operation Washington has previously described as close to a “guardian presence” amid tit-for-tat expulsions and other restrictions.

The embassy is the last operational US mission in the country after the closure of consulates in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg and it has grown to 120 staff from about 1,200 at the start of 2017, Washington said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was not too late for Washington to stop Moscow from following through on the new expulsions if it abandoned its own plans to expel Russian diplomats.

Ties between Washington and Moscow, at their lowest in years after the Cold War, are under pressure due to a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine.

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