Tensions Rise as Russia Retaliates Against New Sanctions Bill
Kremlin opted not to wait for Trump's approval of bill before announcing expulsion of U.S. Embassy staff
Members of the U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia will be expelled in the coming weeks, following an order on Friday by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The move was made in response to a new economic sanctions bill that passed in both houses of the U.S. Congress.
Russia said it would also seize two properties used by the U.S. Embassy by next week. Reuters cited a report by Russia's Interfax news agency saying "hundreds" of employees would be affected, by the exact number was not clear.
The legislation, meant to retaliate against Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election, passed in a vote of 419 to 3 on Thursday, effectively veto-proofing the bill should President Donald Trump want to overrule it. The White House has said in recent weeks that it didn't want new sanctions in place. The Obama administration imposed earlier sanctions late last year just after the election.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that Trump would review the bill and that she didn't know whether he would sign it, but the Kremlin said that Russia had announced their plan to retaliate without waiting for Trump's decision, because "technically the form passed by the Senate is more important."
The new sanctions would impact the Russian energy and financial sectors, and the European Union has expressed concerns that they could also affect European companies involved in the building of a new pipeline from Germany to Russia.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he "very much regrets" the strained relations between the U.S. and Russia, and accused the U.S. of displaying "boorish behavior" and "anti-Russia hysteria."
The Russian foreign ministry called allegations that it meddled in the 2016 election "an absolutely invented pretext."
Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have deepened since the election, despite a relatively warm relationship between Trump and Putin. In addition to an on-camera meeting, the two leaders spoke privately at the G20 Summit earlier this month, in a meeting that was initially undisclosed. News of the talk came in the wake of reports that Donald Trump, Jr., met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign after being told he could gather damaging information about Hillary Clinton in the meeting.
While the Trump administration has dismissed much of the coverage of the issue as "fake news," Russian officials have continued to deny involvement in the hacking of Democratic Party emails or efforts to swing the election.