Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered 755 U.S. diplomatic mission staff to leave the country in a Sunday interview with a Russian television station. The diplomats must leave the country by September 1, The New York Times reports.
In an interview Rossiya-1, Putin said he was capping the number of American personnel at 455, the same as the number of Russian diplomatic and technical staff in the United States, according to the Washington Post.
The expulsion comes in response to legislation overwhelmingly passed by Congress last week that would increase sanctions against Russia and blocks President Trump from being able to lift the measures.
The staff reduction is dramatic, the Post said, involving the main embassy in Moscow and missions in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. The Russian government will also seize two diplomatic properties in Moscow, retaliation for an Obama administration decision to take over two Russian mansions in the U.S., the Post added.
“We waited for quite some time that maybe something will change for the better, had such hope that the situation will somehow change, but, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon,” Putin said regarding U.S.-Russia relations, according to The Times.
The White House announced on Friday that Trump would sign new Russia sanctions, even though the administration had lobbied Congress to water down the legislation. The Trump administration and the Kremlin have maintained a hot-and-cold relationship since Trump took office.
Trump has expressed a desire for warmed relations with Moscow, however, during the first leg of his trip to Eastern Europe on Sunday, Vice President Pence said the president expects Russia’s “unacceptable” behavior to change.
“The president has made it very clear that Russia’s destabilizing activities and support for rogue regimes and its activities in Ukraine are unacceptable. The president made it clear that very soon he will sign sanctions from the Congress to reinforce that,” Pence said during an interview with Fox News on Sunday.
“But at the same time, as we make our intentions clear that we expect Russian behavior to change, the president and I remain very hopeful that we’ll see very different behavior from the Russian government,” he added.