Russia is ready to significantly reduce the number of personnel at the US embassy in Moscow as a response to the seizure of its diplomatic property in the United States, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing on Friday.

According to her, the previous US administration left a lot of unsolved issues and headaches for the new chief executive’s team. “If they don’t discontinue this practice, then it will be hard to build relations,” Zakharova added. “It particularly concerns the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats the unlawful seizure of Russia’s property despite its diplomatic immunity,” the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman noted.

“The seized compounds have not been returned yet. Washington has not only failed to cancel the decision on the expulsion of our diplomats, but it also refuses to issue visas to those who are scheduled to replace the expelled personnel,” she said. “Attempts are being made to link the unlinkable and beat around the bush when it comes to actual issues,” she added.

“If there is no progress, we will have to take retaliatory measures,” she warned. “As for the measures – the number of personnel at the US embassy in Moscow significantly exceeds the number of our personnel working in Washington. So, one of the options is that, apart from expelling the corresponding number of US diplomats, we will just have to even the number of personnel,” Zakharova added.

The US refused to issue visas to Russian diplomats who have to come to replace the 35 diplomats expelled at the end of December, she went on.
“The seized compounds were not returned. Washington not just preserved its decision to expel our employees, but also refuses to grant visas to those who have to come to replace them,” the diplomat said.

In late December 2016, the Obama administration slapped an additional round of sanctions on some Russian companies, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Main Intelligence Agency of Russia’s General Staff. Besides that, US authorities expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland. Washington attributed these sanctions to alleged cyber attacks against US political institutions, pinning the blame on Russia. However, Moscow fully rejected all allegations and refrained from a tit-for-tat response.

Russian staff were barred entry to the compounds by US authorities. Zakharova said earlier that these facilities had always had diplomatic immunity, so their seizure was a gross violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

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