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Russia Moves Against U.S. Diplomats In Retaliation For Sanctions


Russia is retaliating against the U.S. Congress for approving sanctions. The sanctions for interfering in last year's election, among other things, are on their way to President Trump's desk. Not waiting to see if the president signs them into law, Russia has taken retaliatory action against U.S. diplomats on its soil, which is why we've called Shaun Walker, Moscow correspondent for The Guardian, who joins us by Skype. Hey there.

SHAUN WALKER: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's the punishment, exactly?

WALKER: Well - so what we've heard today is that there's going to be two elements to this. One is that the Russian authorities are going to seize two American diplomatic compounds. One of them is a country house just on the outskirts of Moscow. And one of them is a warehouse space. Now, this is less important. These are not huge compounds. But the main thing here is that Russia has said that the number of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia should be brought down to the exact level of the number of Russian diplomatic personnel in the U.S., which is - they're saying is 455.

INSKEEP: Oh. So this is, in a way, mirroring these sanctions that were imposed on Russia by President Obama back in December - right? - when he also closed some diplomatic facilities and threw some Russian diplomats out of the country.

WALKER: That's exactly right. So Obama kicked out 35 Russian diplomats and shut down these two diplomatic compounds, one of which was really a big place out in Maryland, where kind of hundreds of diplomats would go. And the U.S. contention was that this compound was used for spying. And we expected this symmetrical response back in December. That's what usually happens. And, of course, we had this kind of choreographed thing where the Russian foreign ministry recommended it. And then Putin stepped in at the last minute and said, we're not going to do anything. The assumption being, of course, that the Russians thought or had been told that the Trump administration would come in, and either of these measures would be reversed, or there would be some wonderful flourishing of U.S.-Russian relations.

INSKEEP: Well...

WALKER: Obviously, that hasn't happened.

INSKEEP: Well, now that the sanctions are being imposed, I'd like to ask a question about the timing here because Russia chose to act after the House and Senate voted on these sanctions but before President Trump signed it. Are they trying to signal that they're mad at the United States Congress but still happy with Trump?

WALKER: Well, I mean, you could get into that kind of guessing game. What Putin's spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said today was that the sanctions would have never got so far if the U.S. wasn't - if Trump wasn't going to sign them. That's a formality. And so Russia is acting now. And, of course, what they would also say is that these are - although these new sanctions are kind of the final straw, if you like, this is what has convinced the Russians that there is going to be no, you know, renaissance of Russian-U.S. relations. But they would say, look, these are what we should have done ages ago. This is a response to those sanctions you imposed in December. We didn't do it as a measure of good will. Now we are doing it.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's Shaun Walker, who's Moscow correspondent for The Guardian. And he joined us by Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.