Russian President Vladimir Putin hit back at pending U.S. sanctions against his country on Sunday by ordering 755 U.S. diplomats to leave Russia.
“I decided that it is time for us to show that we will not leave anything unanswered,” Putin said in an interview with Russian television on Sunday, according to translated reports in the New York Times and RT. “We’ve been waiting for quite a long time that maybe something would change for the better, we had hopes that the situation would change. But it looks like, it’s not going to change in the near future.”
According to the U.S. State Department web site, there is an embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg. There’s no indication how big the total U.S. presence is, though Putin stated in his interview that the U.S. staff exceeds 1,000 people.
President Donald Trump has indicated that he will sign a sanctions package that includes tough new penalties on Russia and would severely restrict the president’s ability to ease those sanctions without congressional approval. The White House initially expressed opposition to the bill, but announced Friday that Trump would sign it into law after it passed the House and Senate with just a handful of opponents.
The Obama administration levied sanctions for Russians meddling in the 2016 presidential election last December, which included seizing two Russian diplomatic compounds located in the United States. Russian officials have said the seizure was egregious, but did not respond in kind, reportedly due to assurances made by Trump’s now-resigned National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
On Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the U.S. would need to cut its diplomatic staff size and seized properities currently being used by the U.S. government. Sunday’s remarks seem to be Putin’s expansion and confirmation of that policy.
Vice President Mike Pence is visiting the former Soviet republic of Estonia and other Baltic states over the next couple of days. During an interview with Fox News, Pence expressed hope that Russia would change its behavior in Ukraine, Iran and elsewhere.
“As we make our intentions clear, we expect Russian behavior to change,” Pence said before Putin’s interview was published. “The president and I remain very hopeful that we will see different behavior by the Russian government with regards to Ukraine, with regards to supporting rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea. We continue to believe that if Russia will change its behavior, our relationship will change for the better.”