Putin orders cut of 755 personnel at U.S. missions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Putin orders cut of 755 personnel at U.S. missions

Why Russia is demanding the U.S. cut diplomatic staff
The Post’s Andrew Roth explains a statement the Russian Foreign Ministry issued July 28, seizing U.S. diplomatic properties and demanding the State Department reduce its staff in Russia. (Andrew Roth, Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
 July 30 at 4:41 PM
 Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that the U.S. diplomatic missions in Moscow and elsewhere in the country will have to reduce their staffs by 755 people, signaling a significant escalation in the Russian response to American sanctions over the Kremlin’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election.The United States and Russia have expelled dozens of each other’s diplomats before – but Sunday’s statement, made by Putin in an interview with the Rossiya-1 television channel, indicated the single largest forced reduction in embassy staff, comparable only to the closing of the American diplomatic presence in the months following the Communist revolution in 1917.

In the interview, Putin said that the number of American diplomatic and technical personnel will be capped at 455 — equivalent to the number of their Russian counterparts working in the United States. Currently, close to 1,200 employees work at the United States’ embassy and consulates in Russia, according to U.S. and Russian data.

“More than a thousand employees — diplomats and technical employees — have worked and are still working in Russia these days,” Putin told journalist Vladimir Solovyov on a nationally televised news show Sunday evening. “Some 755 of them will have to terminate their activity.”

Putin’s remarks came during a three-and-half-day trip by Vice President Pence to Eastern Europe to show U.S. support for countries that have chafed at interference from Moscow – Estonia, Georgia, and Montenegro.

Russian President Vladimir Putin watched a parade on the Neva River, followed by a short air show and gun salute to celebrate Navy Day on July 30. (Reuters)

“The president has made it very clear that Russia’s destabilizing activities, its support for rogue regimes, its activities in Ukraine, are unacceptable,” Pence said, when asked by reporters in Tallinn, Estonia, whether he expects Trump to sign the sanctions. “The president made very clear that very soon he will sign the sanctions from the Congress of the United States to reinforce that.”

“As we make our intentions clear, we expect Russian behavior to change,” Pence continued.

The Kremlin had said Friday, as the Senate voted to strengthen sanctions on Russia, that some American diplomats would be expelled, but the size of the reduction is dramatic. It covers the main embassy in Moscow, as well as missions in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

The U.S. Embassy in Russia has been unable to provide exact numbers on the number of staff it employs in Russia. But a 2013 review by the Department of State said that the American mission in Russia “employs 1,279 staff, including 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed staff positions from 35 U.S. government agencies.” (A good breakdown of the numbers was posted on the blog Diplopundit).

“This is a landmark moment,” Andrei Kolesnikov, a journalist for the newspaper Kommersant who regularly travels with Putin and has interviewed him extensively over the past 17 years, told the Post in an interview on Friday. “His patience has seriously run out, and everything that he’s been putting off in this conflict, he’s now going to do.”

The Russian government is also seizing two diplomatic properties — a dacha, or country house, in a leafy neighborhood in Moscow, and a warehouse — following the decision by the Obama administration in December to take possession of two Russian mansions in the United States.

The move comes as it has become apparent that Russia has abandoned its hopes for better relations with the United States under a Trump administration.

“I think retaliation is long, long overdue,” deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“We have a very rich toolbox at our disposal,” Ryabkov said. “After the Senate . . . voted so overwhelmingly on a completely weird and unacceptable piece of legislation, it was the last drop.”

Hours later, Putin said during his evening interview that he expected relations between the United States and Russia to worsen, and that Russia would likely come up with other measures to counter American financial sanctions, which were passed by the House and Senate last week and which President Trump has said he will sign.

The reduction in U.S. diplomatic and technical staff is a response to President Obama’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in December in response to the alleged Russian hacking of the mail servers of the Democratic National Committee. The United States also revoked access to two Russian diplomatic compounds on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and on Long Island. American officials said they were used for intelligence collection.

It is not yet clear how the State Department will reduce its staff in Russia. Some of the local staff were hired to help with a significant expansion of the U.S. embassy compound in Moscow.

The move increases the likelihood of new, perhaps asymmetrical reprisals by the United States in coming days.

Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia, tweeted Sunday: “If these cuts are real, Russians should expect to wait weeks if not months to get visas to come to US.”

Ashley Parker , in Tallinn, Estonia, and Madhumita Murgia, in Washington, contributed.

Montenegro joins NATO as Russia turns furious

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

Montenegro joins NATO as Russia turns furious

ONCE the Balkan stronghold of pro-Russian sentiments, tiny Montenegro was yesterday silently celebrating its entry into NATO in a historic turn that has made the Kremlin furious.

Despite the Russian anger and a deep split within the nation of some 620,000 people over the issue, Montenegro is formally becoming the 29th member of the Western military alliance at a ceremony in Washington yesterday.

To get there, Montenegro has stood up against its former ally Russia, which has sought to maintain strong historic, political and cultural influence in the Slavic country it considers a special zone of interest.

The US State Department said Montenegro’s membership “will support greater integration, democratic reform, trade, security, and stability with all of its neighbors.”

Russia has threatened economic and political retaliation, including a campaign to undermine the Montenegrin tourism industry, which relies heavily on Russian visitors. An estimated 200,000 Russians visit Montenegro a year and 80,000 Russians own property in the country.

Russia has also banned imports of Montenegrin wine and recently deported a ranking official from a Moscow airport.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova recently warned potential Russian tourists that “there is an anti-Russian hysteria in Montenegro.”

“We do not rule out the possibility of provocations, arrests for suspicious reasons or extradition to third countries” of Russians, Zakharova said.

Montenegro says Moscow was behind a foiled coup attempt in October that allegedly targeted former Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who was the driving force behind the country’s NATO bid. Russia denies involvement.

“One of the reasons we are joining NATO is to create greater stability, not only for Montenegrin citizens, but also for foreign investors and tourists,” Djukanovic said. “Therefore, our goal is to bring even more Russian tourists.”

Montenegro has officially become the 29th member of NATO

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWSPAPER)

Montenegro officially joins NATO
© Getty Images

Montenegro has officially become the 29th member of NATO after a process that saw a failed coup attempt believed to be supported by Russia, and U.S. senators hurling invective’s.

The tiny Balkan nation on the Adriatic Sea officially joined the alliance in a ceremony Monday at the State Department, where officials hailed the strength of the alliance.

“Montenegro’s accession sends a strong message of strength to the region and makes clear to our allies that the United States remains as committed as ever to the principal of collective defense as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty,” Thomas Shannon, undersecretary of State, said at the ceremony.

The growth of NATO comes as President Trump’s commitment to the alliance continues to be called into question.

During his first alliance meeting, Trump chastised allies for not paying enough for their defense. He also did not explicitly endorse Article 5, the mutual defense clause, despite such an affirmation reportedly being part  of his written speech.Administration officials have since said Trump is committed to Article 5, but Trump has yet to say so himself.

Trump also caused a stir when he appeared to push aside the prime minister of Montenegro so that he could be in the front of a photo of NATO leaders.

In March, the Senate approved Montenegro’s bid to join the alliance in a 97-2 vote.

Despite the strong support, the vote caused some turmoil in the chamber. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had earlier blocked a vote on the treaty, arguing that allowing the country into the alliance would add to America’s military burden.

Paul’s move prompted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to lament that his colleague “is now working for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”

Monday’s ceremony is the culmination of seven years of work for Montenegro.

The process endured a coup attempt in October 2016 that Montenegrin and U.S. officials have said was sponsored by Russia.

In Monday’s ceremony, Shannon commended Montenegro for joining the alliance in the face of “concerted foreign pressure.”

He also highlighted Montenegro’s commitment to spending, saying it will spend 1.7 percent of its gross domestic product on defense and envisions spending 2 percent by 2024.

Montenegro has also contributed to the wars in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Shannon added.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was at the ceremony, said Montenegro’s accession sends a message to other countries hoping to join the alliance.

“Montenegro’s accession sends a signal to other states that seek membership,” he said, “that if a country truly reforms, if it promotes democracy, strengthens the rule of law, modernizes its armed forces and contributes to our collective defense, it too can join the alliance.”

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Duško Marković thanked the United States for its “staunch and continuous support” for his country’s NATO membership and pledged that his country will be a “strong advocate and partner” for NATO’s efforts in the region.

“I firmly believe that this is a historic day for NATO,” he said at the ceremony. “Facing the new and grave challenges, the alliance’s admitting the 29th member show increasingly that the open-door policy is alive and that it works well as a beacon of hope to all of those who want to share its values and standards.”

Updated at 3:45 p.m.

Damian Daily

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