Russia investigation

Over the weekend, Russian president Vladimir Putin responded to new sanctions levied by the U.S. Congress by ordering the removal of 755 American diplomats from U.S. embassies in Russia. But the vast majority of those will not be Americans but Russian nationals, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

 

There are nowhere near 755 Americans working as diplomats in Russia. The State Department inspector general's report from 2013 showed that there were 934 "locally employed" staff in a  total of 1,279. That leaves 345 Americans, many of whom report regular harassment by Russian officials, the Times reported.

 

It's not clear how many Americans will be affected by Putin's order. Dmitri Peskov, a spokesperson for Putin, said it was up to the U.S. to decide how to reduce the staff to 455, to match the number of Russian diplomats in the U.S.

 

Putin, who announced the order on Russian television this weekend, said that the country's patience for improved relations with the United States was at an end.

 

Before leaving office, President Obama ordered the seizure of two Russian compounds and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, who were known to be operating as spies. The Russians had agitated for a return of those compounds, threatening retaliation via Sputnik News, a state-controlled television network.

 

Putin did not respond to Obama's orders, reportedly hoping for better relations with a Trump administration. But those did not materialize as an investigation into whether Trump's campaign colluded with the Russians to swing the 2016 elections was launched.

In July, Putin threatened to expel 30 U.S. diplomats, the news agency TASS reported.

In the last two weeks, both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly to prevent Trump from easing sanctions on Russia without Congressional approval, and applied new sanctions. Last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was expected to sign the legislation. It would have enough support in Congress to override a presidential veto.