President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said the United States would have to cut 755 diplomatic staff in Russia and warned of a prolonged gridlock in its ties after the US Congress backed new sanctions against the Kremlin.
Putin added bluntly that Russia was able to raise the stakes with America even further, although he hoped this would be unnecessary.
A US State Department official denounced the move as a “regrettable and uncalled for act,” adding that Washington was now weighing a potential response.
Russia also froze two US Embassy compounds -- a Moscow summer house and a storage facility in the city -- from Aug. 1.
“I thought that we should show that we too are not going to stand by without a response” after “the baseless measures taken by the American side,” Putin said.
In December, then-US President Barack Obama ordered out 35 Russian diplomats and closed down two embassy summer houses that Washington said were being used by Moscow for espionage.
At the time, the Kremlin said it would put any retaliation on hold until after Trump took office.
High on the list of US grievances is the allegation that Russian operatives hacked Democratic Party computers at the peak of the troubled 2016 election campaign.
Putin on Sunday said Russia had proposed “several times establishing cooperation with the American side” on cybersecurity.
“But instead of starting to work constructively, all we hear are baseless accusations about interference in the internal affairs of the United States,” he complained.
Putin and Trump, meeting on the sidelines of the July 7-8 G-20 summit in Hamburg, talked about setting up what Trump called an “impenetrable cyber security unit” to prevent hacking in future elections.
Senior members of Trump’s Republican Party poured scorn on the concept.
Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the notion was “not the dumbest idea I‘ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close.”
Former presidential candidate John McCain said sarcastically he was “sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort, since he‘s doing the hacking.” (AFP)