Vladimir Putin confirmed Sunday that 755 U.S. diplomatic staff would have to leave Russia by September 1, as the Kremlin hit back at new sanctions passed by Congress last week. The Russian president justified the move by saying that relations with Washington were deteriorating, and added that Moscow was considering possible further measures.
Putin revealed the extent of the cuts Sunday, having initially announced the decision to retaliate Friday. The order leaves the U.S. mission with 455 staff in Russia, the exact same number the Kremlin has in the U.S.
According to a 2013 government report, the U.S. mission in Russia – which includes an embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok – employed 1,279 staff. However only 301 of those were U.S. “direct-hire” staff, with the rest local support employees.
Unless there have been huge changes in the makeup of the U.S. mission staffing in the last four years, most of the cuts will be to local support staff, which will likely result in longer wait times for visa processing and other services operated by the embassy.
Congress approved new sanctions against Russia Thursday for its interference in the 2016 election as well as its annexation of Crimea in 2014. President Donald Trump has not yet signed the bill, but Vice President Mike Pence spoke to reporters while on a trip to eastern Europe Sunday, saying he would sign it “very soon.”
“The president has made it very clear that Russia’s destabilizing activities, its support for rogue regimes, its activities in Ukraine are unacceptable,” Pence said. “As we make our intentions clear, we expect Russian behavior to change.”
Trump had hoped to reset U.S.-Russian relations, but the ongoing investigations into alleged collusion with the Russian government has prevented that. Trump and Putin both deny any wrongdoing.