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Russia has ordered the expulsion of hundreds of US diplomats and the seizure of two embassy compounds in retaliation for new sanctions approved by the Senate earlier this week. Diplomatic corps in Moscow, St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok must downsize to 455 staff members – the same number at the Russian embassy in the US - by September 1, the Russian foreign ministry said. It was not immediately clear how many staff members would have to be expelled. Trump and Putin: a complicated love affair 01:18 According to a Reuters report citing an unnamed embassy official, there are currently 1,100 Americans and Russians on staff at the US embassy, while Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency suggested there are 600-700 staff members. Neither the US embassy nor the Russian foreign ministry responded to requests for clarification. A general view of a building of the US embassy in Moscow, Russia Credit: EPA “We have received the Russian government notification. Ambassador [John] Tefft expressed his strong disappointment and protest. We have passed the notification back to Washington for review,” US embassy spokesperson Maria Olson told The Telegraph. In an elaborate statement posted on her Facebook page, Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova called the US media “zombified” for not knowing how many people work in the US embassy in Russia. She added that the ministry was waiting for a response on how many diplomatic staff are based in Russia. Vladimir Putin, centre, chairs a meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, on Friday Credit: AP Russia also said it would seize a Moscow-based “dacha” compound and US diplomatic warehouse facilities from August 1 in the preemptive measures against the sanctions, which still have to be approved or vetoed by US president Donald Trump. “Despite constant attacks from Washington we have behaved responsibly and reservedly, having ignored obvious provocations thus far. But recent events mean that certain circles in the United States opted for Russophobia and open confrontation with our country,” a statement from the foreign ministry read. Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump shake hands during their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017 Credit: SPUTNIK The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed to the press on Friday that the move was authorised by Russian president Vladimir Putin, who said on Thursday that it was “impossible to tolerate constant boorishness” from the US in regards to the sanctions. Russian media outlets compared the move to the Obama administration's expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in December 2016 and the seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland, in response to suspected Russian meddling in the US election. Jared Kushner speaks out after Senate hearing on Russia 00:30 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed at the time to expel 35 US diplomats from Russia and seize some of the US embassy property in retaliation, but was overruled by Mr Putin who said he was unwilling to resort to “irresponsible diplomacy,” and would wait to see what measure were taken by the new Trump administration. Reducing personnel of the US diplomatic corps in Russia will, without a doubt, complicate the relationship between the two countries, says Adam Smith, former director for multilateral affairs on the National Security Council and former senior advisor to the director of the US treasury department's office of foreign assets Control. “There are other economic tools,” Mr Smith, who is now a partner at Gibsonn Dunn law firm, told The Telegraph. “There are companies that depend on Russian goods, and Russia is still a major energy producer. But in using economic tools, Russia risks potentially being collateral damage.” The announced measures are “the least painful” for both sides, added Russian international affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov. “Expelling diplomats does not scar relations too deep and don’t interfere with major interests. It is easy to back down on such measures,” Mr Frolov told The Telegraph in written comments.
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