Why Did Russia Banish US Diplomats?

US officials and consulate personnel who have been in Russia for more than three years have been expelled from the country, a clear reprisal for Washington’s previous, similar demands.

“U.S. embassy personnel who’ve been in Russia for more than three years must leave Russia by January 31,” Russia Foreign Office secretary Maria Zakharova said during a briefing on Wednesday, claiming the US pushed Moscow to do this.

More to Be Sent Home Soon

She cautioned if Washington’s policy continues, additional American diplomats in Russia will depart by July 1. Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s envoy to the United States, claimed last week that Russian diplomats are being “ejected.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday if Washington forsakes its plans to expel Russian diplomats, Russia will change its policy. It was not a “dismissal,” according to the State Department.

“Our envoys are granted an initial three-year residency in Russia by the Russian Federation. The United States notified Russia about a year ago that its diplomats would indeed be subject to the very same three-year assignments,” State Department press officer Jalina Porter told journalists during Monday’s briefing.

“What is taking place is not a deportation,” Porter clarified.

The tit-for-tat measure comes ahead of a meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian colleague, Sergey Lavrov, in Stockholm on Thursday for the Council for Security and Coordination in Europe conference.

Both the United States, as well as NATO, are concerned about the rising levels of hostility between Russia and Ukraine. Both sides are accusing each other of their respective military buildups in the war zone. Ukraine committed half of its military forces there, according to Russia.

President Vladimir Putin stated on Tuesday that if NATO breaches “red lines” and installs weapons in Ukraine, Moscow would be ready with its newly developed hypersonic missile.

Putin said on Wednesday he planned to meet with Western countries to ensure NATO does not move eastward.

Russia is Plucking at Straws

Blinken replied on Wednesday, calling the claim Ukraine presents a risk to Russia a “poor joke.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, “If Russia chooses the route of conflict in Ukraine, we stated clearly we will react forcefully, thus including a range of high-impact economic indicators,” Blinken said.

Ties between the US and Russia have deteriorated in recent years, particularly since Putin invaded Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and rewrote the nation’s laws to maintain power.

After the Biden government levied penalties and deported ten Russian ambassadors for actions like the SolarWinds cyber incident and election involvement, Russia, as well as the United States, removed their diplomats in April.

In June, the embassies returned. After the closure of two diplomatic missions, the US embassy in Moscow is currently the only active US presence in the country.

The embassy now employs 120 people, down from about 1,200 in early 2017. A request for comment from the State Department was not immediately returned.