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Russia defends slashing US mission as hope fades of better ties

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Moscow on Monday sought to justify its decision to purge US diplomatic personnel in the country, as the Kremlin appeared to give up on hopes of improving ties anytime soon under Donald Trump.

President Vladimir Putin announced Sunday that Washington will have to cut its diplomatic mission in Russia by 755 employees, as Moscow struck back against new sanctions passed by the US Congress.

The move represents one of the biggest single reductions of US personnel by Moscow, with Putin warning he could retaliate further.

“We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better,” the Kremlin strongman said.

“But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it’s not for any time soon.”

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday insisted that any hopes of mending Russia-US ties rest on “curing the worsening political schizophrenia” in Washington, but admitted the two sides appeared “far away” from any improvement.

He did insist Russia remained keen on “continuing cooperation in the areas that correspond to our interests”, suggesting Moscow remains open to working together on Syria after agreeing a ceasefire with the US in the south of the war-torn country.

The US State Department earlier called Moscow’s move “regrettable and uncalled for” and said it was “assessing the impact of such a limitation and how to respond.”

US Vice President Mike Pence while on a visit to Estonia on Monday said: “We hope for better days, for better relations with Russia.”

He stressed that “recent diplomatic action taken by Moscow will not deter the commitment of the United States of America to our security, the security of our allies.”

– ‘Choice for US’ –

Last Thursday the US Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill to toughen sanctions on Russia for allegedly meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and its intervention in Ukraine. Iran and North Korea are also targeted in the sanctions bill.

The White House said Trump intends to sign off on the legislation, despite complaining earlier it would cut off the president’s room for diplomatic manoeuvring.


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