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September 6, 2017

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Putin hits out at latest US move on diplomats

RUSSIA reserves the right to further cut the number of US diplomatic staff in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday in response to what he called the boorish treatment of Russia’s diplomatic mission on US soil.

Speaking after US officials ordered Russia to vacate diplomatic premises in several cities, Putin said he would order his foreign ministry to take legal action over alleged property rights violations.

“That the Americans reduced the number of our diplomatic facilities — this is their right,” Putin told a news conference in the Chinese city of Xiamen, where he was attending a summit of major emerging economies.

“The only thing is that it was done in such a clearly boorish manner. That does not reflect well on our American partners. But it’s difficult to conduct a dialogue with people who confuse Austria and Australia. Nothing can be done about it. Probably such is the level of political culture of a certain part of the US establishment,” he said.

“As for our buildings and facilities, this is an unprecedented thing,” Putin said. “This is a clear violation of Russia’s property rights. Therefore, for a start, I will order the foreign ministry to go to court — and let’s see just how efficient the much praised US judiciary is.”

US President Donald Trump took office in January, saying he wanted to improve ties. Putin also spoke favorably of Trump.

But relations have been damaged by accusations that Russia sought to meddle in the presidential election. Russia has denied interfering in the vote.

Asked if he was disappointed with Trump, Putin said: “Whether I am disappointed or not, your question sounds very naive — he is not my bride and, likewise, I am neither his bride nor bridegroom.

“We are both statesmen. Every nation has interests of its own. In his activities, Trump is guided by the national interests of his country, and I by the interests of mine.

“I greatly hope that we will be able, just as the current US president said, to find some compromises while resolving bilateral and international problems ... taking into account our joint responsibility for international security.”

The US order for Russia to vacate some of its diplomatic properties was the latest in a series of tit-for-tat actions that began when former US President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats late last year. His administration said it was retaliating for Russian meddling in the US presidential election.

Moscow responded by ordering the US to cut its diplomatic and technical staff working in Russia to 455.

Moscow said the move aimed to bring the number of diplomats on each other’s soil to parity. But Putin said the latest expulsions brought the number of Russian diplomats below parity.

He said the US was erroneously counting 155 Russian diplomats working at United Nations headquarters in New York. If they are removed from the equation, Putin said, Russia has fewer than 455 diplomats in the US.

The US ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in San Francisco and two buildings housing trade missions in Washington and New York.

US-Russian relations have also been badly strained by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent conflict in east Ukraine, developments which led Washington to impose economic sanctions on Russia.

Putin said yesterday that any decision by the US to supply defensive weapons to Ukraine would fuel the conflict.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was actively reviewing sending lethal weapons to Ukraine to help it defend itself, an option Obama vetoed.


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