May 12, 2021

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Russia Will Expel 10 Diplomats in Retaliation for Sanctions – The New York Times

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MOSCOW — The Russian government will expel 10 American diplomats, crack down on U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations and offered what was said to be a recommendation that the American ambassador leave the country in retaliation for sanctions announced this week by the Biden administration, Russia’s foreign minister said Friday.

Also in retaliation for the sanctions, the foreign ministry banned entry into Russia by eight current and former United States officials, Sergey V. Lavrov, the foreign minister, said.

The response, mostly mirroring the diplomatic rebuke by the United States from the day before, suggested the Russian government did not intend an escalation that could worsen already dismal relations between the countries.

President Biden suggested the sanctions would signal a harder line toward Moscow, though he left a door open for dialogue, after years of deferential treatment under the Trump administration. Mr. Lavrov called the sanctions an “absolutely unfriendly and unprovoked action.”

But with the Russian response to the sanctions largely limited to the expulsions and travel bans, it appears the Kremlin does not intend to raise the diplomatic stakes and may remain open to the invitation to a summit meeting, possibly in a European country sometime over the summer, that Mr. Biden extended to President Vladimir V. Putin this week.

The U.S. sanctions came in response to Russia’s launching cyberattacks on government and private networks and its yearslong interference in U.S. elections. There has also been concern about a C.I.A. assessment that Russia offered bounties to Afghan militants to kill U.S. troops. But as the assessment was confirmed with only low to moderate certainty, the concern was expressed in a diplomatic statement to the Russians and not as justification for sanctions.

Some of the U.S. measures are aimed at making it harder for Russia to participate in the global economy if the country carries on with its harmful actions.

“I chose to be proportionate,” Mr. Biden said Thursday at the White House, describing how he had warned Mr. Putin of what was coming in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship,” he said.

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that those U.S. officials banned from entering the country included FBI Director Christopher Wray, the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. Others to face an entry ban include Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons Michael Carvajal, Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice, John Bolton, the former U.S. National Security Adviser, and ex-CIA head Robert James Woolsey.

Along with the expulsions, the foreign ministry said it would close nongovernmental groups supported by the State Department if they interfere in Russia’s domestic politics but did not specify which organizations might be shuttered.

Also on Friday, the United States ambassador to Russia, John J. Sullivan, was summoned to a meeting with a senior Kremlin foreign policy official, Yuri Ushakov, and advised to return to the United States for consultations.

It was not immediately clear if Mr. Sullivan would leave. In the statement, his departure was presented as a suggestion, not a demand. “It’s just obvious that, in this situation of extreme tension, there’s an objective need for both ambassadors to be in their capitals.” Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, on March 21.

Diplomatic expressions of anger between Russia and Western nations, well-rehearsed in the seven years since Russia’s initiated a military incursion into Ukraine, typically play out over several days as choreographed exchanges of insults and tit-for-tat expulsions.

“In Washington, it seems, they don’t wish to make peace with the new geopolitical reality where there’s no place for unipolar diktat and the bankrupt scenario of ‘containing Moscow,’” the statement said. It called U.S. policy toward Russia “myopic.”

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, had said earlier on Friday the Russian government’s response should also be understood as “symmetrical,” suggesting a desire to avoid escalating.

In a rare acknowledgment of the lopsided nature of the relationship economically, the foreign ministry said it didn’t have an immediate response to the main financial sanction the United States announced Thursday, a limit on U.S. purchases of Russian government bonds. “We, of course, understand limitation of our abilities to mirror a ‘squeeze’ on the American economy,” the ministry said.

Mr. Lavrov had said that if the situation worsened, Russia might target American companies that are vulnerable in some way.

In one regard, the Russian response went beyond the measures imposed by Western governments on Thursday. Because Poland, the statement said, had hurried to “sing along” with the U.S. measures and expel three diplomats, the Russian government would in retaliation expel five Polish diplomats from Russia.

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