Moscow threatens to expel US diplomats

A Russian police officer patrols a street in front of the US Embassy in Moscow.
Kirill Kudryavtsev | AFP | Getty Images
A Russian police officer patrols a street in front of the US Embassy in Moscow.

Moscow has threatened to expel US diplomats and to seize diplomatic property if Washington fails to back down over its closure of two Russian compounds last year.

Maria Zakharova, foreign ministry spokeswoman, said if there was no progress in talks between foreign ministry officials from the two countries in Washington on Monday, Russia would "have to take counter measures against the US."

She said the number of staff at the US embassy could be reduced and a dacha and warehouse used by the embassy seized.

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Friday's warning highlights the strains in the delicate relationship between Moscow and Washington despite the seemingly friendly meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump last week.

Although the Kremlin has welcomed the fact that the two leaders talked for more than two hours during the G20 summit, it has watched with trepidation as revelations have emerged over a meeting between Mr Trump's son and a Russian lawyer during last year's US election campaign.

In December, the administration of then US president Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats who it said were spies and blocked access to two leisure compounds in Maryland and Long Island that staff of Russia's diplomatic missions had been using. Washington presented the measures as a response to cyber attacks targeting the Democratic National Committee and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, which the US intelligence community has said were perpetrated by Russia.

At the time, Mr Putin said he would refrain from retaliating as he hoped that the Trump administration would take a more constructive approach to Russia. But as an improvement in bilateral relations began to look less likely in the months after Mr Trump took over, Moscow has started to take a different line.

The Russian government has said that the seizure of its diplomatic properties by the US is a violation of the Vienna Convention. After the US government added more Russian officials to its sanctions list last month, Moscow warned that it was losing patience.

Sergei Ryabkov, deputy foreign minister, and Thomas Shannon, US Undersecretary of State, who have been tasked with tackling pressing issues to prevent relations from deteriorating further, were due to meet over the diplomatic properties last month but the talks were rescheduled for Monday.

Ms Zakharova said the previous meeting had been postponed because the US was unprepared for dialogue. "Now we are hoping that the United States will demonstrate a more constructive attitude after the summit meeting in Hamburg," she said.

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