Putin: 755 US embassy staff in Russia must go, time to show we won’t leave anything unanswered
Clarification: Previous copy of the text and the headline stated that 755 US diplomats were to leave Russia, whereas it’s both diplomatic and technical staff that will be cut, some of them local employees.
"The American side has made a move which, it is important to note, hasn't been provoked by anything, to worsen Russian-US relations. [It includes] unlawful restrictions, attempts to influence other states of the world, including our allies, who are interested in developing and keeping relations with Russia," Putin told channel host, Vladimir Solovyov, Sunday.
"We've been waiting for quite a long time that maybe something would change for the better, we had hopes that the situation would change. But it looks like, it's not going to change in the near future... I decided that it is time for us to show that we will not leave anything unanswered," the Russian president added.
Earlier this week, following the US Congress' approval of new sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, the Russian foreign ministry announced that Moscow told Washington to reduce the number of its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people.
The number of US diplomatic service staff in Russia was ordered to be reduced in order to equal the number of Russian diplomats in the US by September 1. As of now, it "greatly exceeds" the number of Russia's embassy staff in the US, the ministry said. The American diplomatic mission includes more than 1,200 personnel.
"From the perspective of a working diplomatic mission, [the measure] is fairly sensitive," Putin said.
The US State Department responded to Moscow’s move with regret, arguing that it was an “uncalled-for act.”
“We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it,” a statement from the department said.
However, the State Department declined to comment on the exact number of embassy and consular staff in Russia, Reuters reports.
The Russian leader went on to say that there is a number of "important spheres of cooperation" between Moscow and Washington, which he hoped would not suffer because of America's anti-Russian policies. Those mostly include the joint fight against terrorism, obligations to nuclear arms control, and space projects rather than economic relations, Putin said.
Moscow has much wider trade and economic relations with China, the EU and other countries than with the US, the president added.
Putin however underlined that Moscow and Washington had recently reached "concrete" results in de-escalating the crisis in war-torn Syria, which are in the interests of the entire Middle East region.
"We also work together on fighting illegal migration and organized crime in a broad sense. There are also issues of cybersecurity," Putin pointed out, having also referred to joint Russia-US scientific projects in space, such as plans to jointly explore Venus.
"The main thing is, that we have a multi-faceted cooperation in many fields. Of course, Moscow has a lot to say and there is a number of spheres of cooperation that we could potentially cut and it would be sensitive for the US side. But I think we shouldn't do it. It would harm development of international relations. I hope it won't get to that point. As of today, I'm against it."