• Russia defends slashing US diplomats as Putin warns further retaliation

Russia says Moscow and Washington are “far away” from any improvement in their relations, defending a recent decision by President Vladimir Putin to expel hundreds of US diplomats from the country.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that the ball was now in the US court to help mend bilateral ties, saying Russia remained keen on "continuing cooperation in the areas that correspond to our interests.”

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Friday ordered the US embassy to reduce its diplomatic presence to 455 diplomats and staff by September 1.

That means a drastic reduction of more than 750 diplomatic staff so that the size of the embassy would match the size of Russia's mission in the US. The move, accompanied by the closure of a US recreational retreat in Russia as well as warehouse facilities, came after the US Congress unanimously passed new sanctions on Russia.

Peskov defended the downsizing of American diplomatic staff in light of increasing anti-Russia sentiments in the US, saying if Washington really wanted to mend ties with Moscow, it should first cure “the worsening political schizophrenia” in the US.

He said Russia would continue to cooperate with the US on key international issues, including the situation in Syria, saying, however, that the two countries were “far away” from any improvement in their relations.

Putin warned Sunday that Russia could even further retaliate against the new sanctions, saying, however, that slashing the number of US diplomatic staff would suffice for now. He said Russia had waited for months to see any changes in the US policy but it was all in vain.

“We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better," Putin said, adding, "But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it's not for any time soon.”

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Jul 31, 2017 19:38 UTC
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