Russia has ordered all United States Embassy diplomats and staff who have been in the country for more than three years to leave by January 31, just one day before diplomats were scheduled to discuss the two nations’ struggling relationship.
The Wall Street Journal reported that foreign ministry officials suggested Russia’s move to expel U.S. Embassy personnel was in retaliation to Washington’s removal of over 50 Russian diplomats by June 30.
“I would like to emphasize that the choice is not ours,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday. “Our American partners have forced us to play that way. We have long and persistently tried to reason with them and still direct them to some kind of constructive solution to the issue, but they made their choice.”
The State Department explained that Russian diplomats were asked to leave according to existing policy.
“Just as the Russian Federation grants our diplomats with an initial three-year stay in Russia, the U.S. also informed Russia about a year ago that its diplomats would be subject to the same three-year assignments, which is not abnormal,” State spokeswoman Jalina Porter said.
Zakharova accused the U.S. State Department of disrupting diplomatic relations, as well as the right of states to choose how long a diplomat remains in a host country. She said additional U.S. diplomats would be forced to leave Russia by July 1 if the two countries are not able to reach a compromise.
Also on Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov urged the United States to abandon its requirements, which he said forced Moscow to take reciprocal actions.
The battle over diplomats comes as tensions between the United States and Russia escalate over reports of a possible Russian coup in Ukraine. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy did not give full details of the coup attempt nor did he accuse the Kremlin of direct involvement, and the Kremlin quickly denied a role in any coup plot.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Stockholm for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit on Thursday where he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Blinken also plans to meet with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
“Despite uncertainty about intentions and timing, we must prepare for all contingencies while working to see that Russia reverses course,” Mr. Blinken told reporters Wednesday. “Should Russia follow the path of confrontation when it comes to Ukraine, we made clear that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures.”