Russia had threatened retaliation for the new package of sanctions passed by Congress, and now they are following through with an eye-for-an-eye approach. Or rather, a diplomatic-compound-for-a-diplomatic-compound. Russia has seized two diplomatic properties and has demanded that the U.S. reduce its embassy staff in Russia in a move that is painstakingly similar to measures former President Obama took against Moscow last fall after accusing Russia of meddling in the U.S. election.
The Russia Foreign Ministry said of the new sanctions package, “This yet again attests to the extreme aggressiveness of the United States when it comes to international affairs.” Indeed, Moscow wasted no time in responding to the vote after weeks of threats ahead of time. As soon as the sanctions package passed, Russia announced the new law on diplomatic properties and staff size. But it’s not only the sanctions that Russia resents. Lingering outrage over President Obama’s expulsion of Russian diplomats from two compounds in Maryland and Long Island last fall is also a continued source of bad blood.
Putin may still be upset over the Obama-ordered ouster, and Moscow has ordered U.S. embassy staff in Russia to be reduced down to the same total number of staff Russia now has in the Untied States. The properties seized by the Kremlin were also quite similar to those seized by the U.S. last fall. They include a country retreat near Moscow and its attendant warehouse facilities in the city itself. Some of the embassy properties affected by the staff reduction include consulates in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.
Though there was a brief time when President Trump seemed to think he could use the diplomatic compounds as leverage to get on Moscow’s good side, that moment is long past. “The situation is outrageous. It is just shameful for the United States to leave this situation hanging in the mid-air,” said Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Russian state television Tuesday.
Though Russia has specifically mentioned former President Obama and the damage his expulsions caused to Russian relations, there is certainly an undercurrent of disappointment with President Trump. Six months in, Trump has yet to return the Maryland and Long Island properties to Russia and sanctions have only tightened. There seems to be little recourse for Trump other than pinning blame on Obama himself.
Negotiations will continue next week between Sergei Ryabkov and Thomas Shannon, two associate members of their respective state departments. But it seems there is little Trump can do to alleviate the situation. Past negotiations haven’t exactly gone well. And the Senate has carefully crafted is sanctions package to prevent Trump from meddling with it and was decisive in its recent decision to stay the course on the economic checks.