This story is being updated just before Shabbat in Israel. After an announcement by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Russia on Friday declared 35 US diplomats persona non grata – 31 embassy personnel in Moscow and four in the St. Petersburg consulate, President Putin decided to let them stay, because, he stated, he prefers to just wait for January 20, when President Trump will take over. This negated Putin’s foreign minister, who stated earlier: “We, of course, cannot leave unanswered insults of this kind – reciprocity is the law of diplomacy and foreign relations.”
The Russian initial announcement followed President Obama’s expelling 35 Russian intelligence agents and sanctioning five Russian entities and four individuals for the cyber attack on the DNC and on individual Democratic Party officials during the 2016 presidential campaign.
This is the earlier version of our story.
“The outgoing US administration of Barack Obama are accusing Russia of every kind of mortal sin,” Lavrov said, suggesting that the White House is “trying to blame us for the failure of its foreign policy initiatives, among other thing. [Obama] has put forward additional accusations without any grounds whatsoever that the Russian state was behind attempts to meddle in the US election campaign, which led to the defeat of the Democratic candidate.”
“Yesterday, the US administration, without providing any facts or evidence, announced a new wave of sanctions against the Russian Federation,” Lavrov continued, noting that “Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), some other Russian agencies and individuals were sanctioned. The sanctions also covered our diplomats. Thirty-five people working in Washington and San Francisco have to leave the US before the end of the day January 1st.”
“Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election,” President Obama announced on Thursday. “These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.”
“I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners,” Obama stated. “Using this new authority, I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations. In addition, the Secretary of the Treasury is designating two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information.”
Over the past year or so, the State Dept. has been complaining that the Russian government is harassing of American officials, going as far as to report that two US diplomats, a man and a woman, were slipped date rape drugs in St Petersburg last year. State Dept. spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau in her press briefings would not comment on specific cases but said her department was “troubled by the way our diplomatic and consular staff have been treated over the past two years” in Russia. “We have raised our concerns at the highest levels,” Trudeau said in one briefing. “In particular, the harassment and surveillance of our diplomatic personnel in Moscow by security personnel and traffic police has increased significantly.”
But the Obama announcement Thursday was strictly about Russian hacking and meddling.
In addition, according to Obama, “the State Department is also shutting down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes, and is declaring “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives. Finally, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are releasing declassified technical information on Russian civilian and military intelligence service cyber activity, to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.”
Lavrov argued back that the Russian compounds in New York and Maryland closed by the US Administration were used for children’s recreation during the winter holidays.
“We are forbidden to use the property that is the state property of the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said. “These are places for the recreation of the ministry staff in Washington and for the Russian mission to the UN. […] In both cases, the dachas were supposed to be used by children during the winter holidays, the camps traditionally open there. And these dachas have been declared spy nests, as I understand from the statements of the US administration.”
Russia is contemplating the banning of US diplomats from using a vacation house and a warehouse in Moscow, according to Lavrov.