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Russia warns U.S.: More diplomats will have to leave next year

Russia's Putin warns NATO on Ukraine
Russia's Putin warns NATO on Ukraine 03:56

Russian officials said Wednesday that a number of U.S. Embassy staff will have to leave the country before January, a new twist in an escalating diplomatic spat.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a briefing the decision will affect diplomats who had spent more than three years in the country and would be a tit-for-tat response to the U.S. sending 55 Russian diplomats home.

Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said last week that 27 Russian diplomats and their families are being expelled from the United States."We are facing a serious staff shortage," he said.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Monday "what's happening is not an expulsion" and that Russia had been warned of the measure.

"Just as the Russian Federation grants our diplomats with an initial three-way stay in Russia, the U.S. also informed Russia about a year ago that its diplomats would be subject to the same three-year assignments, which is not abnormal," spokesperson Jalina Porter said in a briefing.

Porter said Russia can replace those who are departing with other staffers.

Antonov had rejected the notion the Russian diplomats are leaving because their visas expired, saying that the U.S. refusal to extend them effectively amounts to an expulsion.

"We view the U.S. demand precisely as an expulsion and intend to respond accordingly," Zakharova said in a briefing. "I would like to emphasize that the choice is not ours. This game was imposed on us by our American partners. We tried long and hard to reason with them."

After a series of expulsions, both diplomatic missions had to make significant cuts to their activities. In retaliation for sanctions, Moscow banned the U.S. mission from hiring locals to support the operation, which resulted in a suspension of consular services and the issuance of visas.

The U.S. State Department warned that the embassy in Moscow could stop performing most of its functions in 2022. Last month, it added Russia to a short list of countries where "the political or security situation is tenuous or uncertain enough" to prevent the staff from processing immigrant visa applications. Russians were designated "homeless nationals" who have to apply for visas in third countries.

The U.S. mission has about 120 people working in Russia, a fraction of the 1,200 staffers it had in 2017, while Russia has around 230 people in the United States, excluding those working in the U.N. mission in New York.

The United States still has time to prevent a retaliatory expulsion of its diplomats from Russia, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Wednesday when commenting on the announcement.

"Of course, there is still time," he said, according to TASS. "Our response will be symmetrical, and the same number of American personnel will leave our country based on the same principle: Those who 'overstay' their three-year term of service."

Ryabkov said Russia proposed the U.S cancel these requirements as "it goes against the current practice and is interference in our own independent decisions."

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