Putin expels 755 U.S. diplomats from Moscow

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the U.S. must cut the size of its diplomatic force in his country by more than half, from about 1,210 to 455.

Putin said in a television interview on Sunday that the cut will make the size of the U.S. diplomatic mission in his country equal to that of Russia’s diplomatic corps in the U.S.

“The personnel of the U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia will be cut by 755 people and will now equal the number of the Russian diplomatic personnel in the United States, 455 people on each side,” Putin said during the interview on Rossiya 1 network.

“Because over a thousand employees, diplomats and technical personnel have been working and are still working in Russia, and 755 of them will have to cease their work in the Russian Federation. It’s considerable,” the president added.

A State Department official called the move a “regrettable and uncalled for act.”

“We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it.” the official said. “We have no further comment at this time.”

Putin’s comments come on the same day that the Kremlin’s deputy foreign minister said on ABC News’. “This Week” that Russian retaliation over U.S. sanctions is “long, long, overdue.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov talked to ”This Week“ co-anchor Martha Raddatz about the Kremlin’s action Friday demanding a cut in the number of American diplomats in Russia and seizing two U.S. facilities.

“I think this retaliation is long, long overdue,” Ryabkov said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the size of the U.S. diplomatic corps was being reduced to 455 but did not specify the size of the cut in U.S. staff. Ryabkov said Sunday that the Kremlin decided to act after Congress approved a new sanctions bill targeted at Russia as well as North Korea and Iran.

When the U.S. Senate on Thursday “voted so overwhelmingly on a completely weird and unacceptable piece of legislation, it was the last drop,” he said.

The new sanctions bill cleared Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, by a 98-2 vote in the Senate and 419-3 in the House. The legislation now awaits President Trump’s signature, and in a statement Friday night the White House said Trump ”approves the bill and intends to sign it.”

If Trump signs the new sanctions bill, it will be only the latest penalties imposed by the U.S. on Russia.

Former president Obama in late December expelled 35 Russian intelligence operatives and sanctioned five Russian entities and four individuals for an alleged cyber assault on Democratic political organizations during the 2016 presidential campaign. The U.S. also shut down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York that American officials said were used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes.