MOSCOW: Moscow on Friday (Saturday in Manila) ordered the US to slash its number of diplomats in Russia and froze two embassy compounds in a pre-emptive strike against tough new sanctions being readied in Washington.
On Thursday, the US Senate passed new bipartisan sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, sending the package to President Donald Trump.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump will sign the bill into law, ending speculation over whether he would veto the measure.
But the president only did so after negotiating “critical elements” of the bill, the spokeswoman added, without specifying what those elements were.
“He has now reviewed the final version and, based on its responsiveness to his negotiations, approves the bill and intends to sign it.”
The move was a further blow to hopes in Moscow that Trump’s election might help improve ties that slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War over the Kremlin’s meddling in Ukraine and alleged interference in the US election.
It has also upset some European nations fearful that it could hit their businesses. Germany warned it would not accept sanctions that targeted companies involved with Russia’s energy sector.
The Kremlin had previously said it would hold off from responding until the sanctions became law. But it appeared to change tack after President Vladimir Putin insisted Thursday that he could not “endlessly tolerate this kind of insolence.”
A Russian foreign ministry statement demanded the US cut its diplomatic presence in Russia by September to 455 — the same number Moscow has in the US — in a move sources said could force out hundreds of diplomats.
It also said it was barring the US embassy from using a Moscow summer house and storage facility in the city from August 1.
“The United States under the absolutely invented pretext of Russian interference in their internal affairs takes one grossly anti-Russian action after another,” it said.
Moscow “reserves the right to carry out other measures that could affect the interests of the US,” the statement added.
In a phone call later with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that the measures from Moscow were a “necessary step,” his ministry said.
Lavrov said that Russia was “still ready to normalize bilateral relations with the US and to cooperate on the most important international issues.
“However, this is possible only on the basis of equality, mutual respect and a balancing of interests,” the ministry statement added.