Russia will expel 10 diplomats in retaliation for sanctions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a meeting with Libya's Prime Minister, on April 15, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
MOSCOW — The Russian government will expel 10 American diplomats and threatened to crack down on US-funded nongovernmental organizations in retaliation for sanctions announced this week by the Biden administration, Russia’s foreign minister said Friday.اضافة اعلان

The foreign ministry also offered what it called a suggestion that the American ambassador temporarily return to Washington and it banned entry into Russia by eight current and former US officials, Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, said.

The response, mostly mirroring the diplomatic rebuke by the United States from the day before, suggested the Russian government did not intend an escalation that could worsen already dismal relations between the countries. Those relations have frayed in good part over Russian cyberattacks and interference in American elections.

President Joe Biden had indicated that the new US sanctions would signal a harder line toward Moscow, though he left a door open for dialogue, after years of deferential treatment under the Trump administration. Lavrov called the sanctions an “absolutely unfriendly and unprovoked action.”

But with the Russian response to them largely limited to the expulsions and travel bans, it appears the Kremlin does not intend to raise the diplomatic stakes and may remain open to the invitation to a summit meeting, possibly this summer, that Biden extended to President Vladimir Putin this week.

The Biden administration expelled 10 diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Washington and sanctioned 32 entities and individuals for disinformation efforts and carrying out Moscow’s interference in the 2020 presidential election. Some of the US measures are aimed at making it harder for Russia to participate in the global economy if the country carries on with its harmful actions.

“I chose to be proportionate,” Biden said Thursday at the White House, describing how he had warned Putin of what was coming in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship,” he said.

In a statement late Friday afternoon, the State Department called the Kremlin’s expulsion of diplomats and sanctions against US officials as “escalatory and regrettable.”

The statement defended the Biden administration’s actions this week against Russian officials and government entities as “proportionate and appropriate to Russia’s harmful activities.”

It added: “It is not in our interest to get into an escalatory cycle, but we reserve the right to respond to any Russian retaliation against the United States.”

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that the US officials banned from entering the country included the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray; the director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines; Attorney General Merrick Garland; and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Others to face an entry ban include the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Michael Carvajal; the Domestic Policy Council director, Susan Rice; John Bolton, a former National Security Adviser; and a former director of the CIA, James Woolsey.

Along with the expulsions, the foreign ministry said it would close nongovernmental groups supported by the State Department if they interfered in Russia’s domestic politics but did not specify which organizations might be shuttered.

Also on Friday, the US ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, was summoned to a meeting with a senior Kremlin foreign policy official, Yuri Ushakov, and advised to return to the United States for consultations.

It was not immediately clear if Sullivan would leave. In the statement, his departure was presented as a suggestion, not a demand. “It’s just obvious that, in this situation of extreme tension, there’s an objective need for both ambassadors to be in their capitals,” the statement said. Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, on March 21.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, had said earlier on Friday that the Russian government’s response should also be understood as “symmetrical,” suggesting a desire to avoid escalating.

In a rare acknowledgment of the lopsided nature of the relationship economically, the foreign ministry said it didn’t have an immediate response to the main financial sanction the United States announced Thursday — a limit on US purchases of Russian government bonds.

“We, of course, understand the limitation of our abilities to mirror a ‘squeeze’ on the American economy,” the ministry said.