The President of Russia issued a unique retaliation against new U.S. sanctions on Friday, July 28, announcing the seizure of two embassy facilities and ordering the United States to downsize its workforce by 755 diplomats and support staff by September 1. Russia’s actions are in response to the recent overwhelming passage of bipartisan legislation in Congress in response to the U.S. intelligence community’s high-confidence assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. The cut in diplomatic staff will equalize the number of officials serving on behalf of Russia and United States in each other’s country, and it mirrors President Obama’s initial response to Russian aggression last winter, when his administration seized Russian compounds in the United States and ordered certain Russian officials accused of espionage to leave the country.
Many of the 755 staff who will be dismissed will likely be Russian citizens working on behalf of the U.S. government in Russia, and their dismissal will likely cause major headaches with administrative functions at the U.S. Embassy. Russian citizens working at the Embassy assist with many different tasks including translation and basic support functions.
President Trump has insisted since his presidential campaign that he would like to foster closer ties with Russia, but this latest action suggests such progress will be difficult. The Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, seemed to taunt President Trump on Twitter following the passage of the sanctions legislation, saying, “The Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way.” Mr. Trump released his own signing statement on the legislation that seemed to suggest Congress’s passage of the sanctions legislation was, in part, unconstitutional and stepped into his responsibilities to conduct foreign policy as the head of the Executive Branch.
Some experts predict that the move by Russia will end up hurting Russians the most. Former Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul told NBC, “It’s going to take a lot longer for Russians to come to the United States,” because so much of the diplomatic staff works in consular affairs processing visa applications. “This has a boomerang effect. It hurts Russians as well,” he said.