Russia has booted more US diplomats from the country, days after the foreign ministry confirmed the United States had ordered an additional 27 Russian diplomats to leave by end of January (which would bring the recent total expelled to 50). Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova made the announcement Wednesday, awkwardly coming a day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation on Europe (OSCE) summit in Stockholm.
"We view the US demand as an act of expulsion and intend to resort to retaliatory measures," she vowed. "Members of the US Embassy in Russia, who have been on their mission here for more than three years, must leave Russia before January 31, 2022."
Calling it an affront on "diplomatic norms" Zakharova said of the 27 diplomats expelled from the US: "Russia sent them there on their mission based on the staff policy of our ministry and the diplomatic service," according to TASS. "[Our] American partners devised for us how Russian diplomats should leave the United States by terminating their duties."
"I would like to emphasize that the choice is not ours," she explained in Wednesday's briefing. "Our American partners have forced us to play that way. We have long and persistently tried to reason with them and still direct them to some kind of constructive solution to the issue, but they made their choice." However, Russia has held out that if Washington reverses its own latest decisions, Moscow too would not carry out the expulsion order.
This comes after several similar tit-for-tat moves which has left both sides complaining about severe staff shortages inside their embassies, also as Russia struggles to maintain its consulates outside of D.C. as well. As Al Jazeera reviews:
The US embassy in Moscow is the last operational US mission in the country, which has shrunk to 120 staff from about 1,200 in early 2017, Washington says.
Further reductions in US embassy staff would put pressure on an operation that Washington has previously described as being close to a "caretaker presence".
This past summer the Russian government in a devastating blow for US Embassy-Moscow staffing imposed a ban on local Russian citizens being hired for staffing positions at the embassy.
🇷🇺🇺🇸 Russia's Foreign Ministry: U.S. embassy personnel who have been in Moscow for more than three years must depart by January 31st - RIA— PiQ (@PriapusIQ) December 1, 2021
🔹 If no solution is reached, another batch of US diplomats could be asked to leave Russia by July 1
Some Congressional leaders have argued for more. In October Congressional hawks actually proposed an even bigger wave of expulsions, which would damage relations to the point of potentially breaking US-Russia communications altogether.
Citing the refusal of Moscow to in a timely manner issue more visas for American employees of the Moscow embassy, leading Senators had called for the US banning as many as 300 Russian diplomatic staff from the US. Given what's looking to be multiple waves of expulsions, it's possible that high number could eventually be reached at this rate.