Russia said on Wednesday that US embassy staff who have been in Moscow for more than three years must leave by January 31, in retaliation againts what Moscow claims is a US determination to limit the tenure of Russian diplomats.
The move comes after Russia's ambassador to the US said last week that 27 Russian diplomats and their families were being expelled from the US and will depart on January 30.
Embassy staff cutbacks add strain between US, Russia
According to the Russian news agency RIA, new US laws meant that Russian diplomats who were compelled to leave the US were also barred from serving as diplomats in the US for three years.
The US embassy in Moscow did not respond to a request for comment. Further cutbacks in US embassy personnel in Moscow would put more strain on an operation that Washington has already defined as a "caretaker" in the face of tit-for-tat expulsions and other limitations, Reuters reported.
The embassy is the country's final active US post, following the closure of consulates in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg, and its workforce has dwindled to 120 from about 1,200 in early 2017, according to Washington.
Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, said it was not too late for Washington to stop Moscow from carrying out the latest expulsions if it abandoned its own plans to expel Russian ambassadors. Due to a Russian force build-up near Ukraine, relations between Washington and Moscow, which have been at post-Cold War lows for years, are under strain.
Per NY Post, Russia's meddling in US elections and the unlawful annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 have sparked a diplomatic conflict. Since then, Washington and Moscow have periodically expelled one another's diplomats or have taken other steps to limit the diplomatic duties of their adversaries.
The former Cold War adversaries' relationship has deteriorated further since Russia massed thousands of troops and military equipment along Ukraine's eastern border, which is a precursor to an invasion according to many Western countries and the Kiev administration.
100,000 Russian troops deployed in Ukraine border
The Kremlin has amassed a force of 100,000 troops, including tanks, artillery, and ballistic missiles, within striking distance of its neighbors' borders. Russia, according to Kiev's intelligence head, might invade by the end of January with a huge attack on ten fronts. The magnitude of Vladimir Putin's offensive is 100,000 soldiers, according to Ukrainian commander Kyrylo Budanov, the director of Kiev's defense intelligence agency.
Brigadier General Budanov stated that the invasion will include aircraft and artillery bombardments. Following that, up to 3,500 paratroopers and special troops would be deployed from the air. A massive assault over the border, amphibious landings in Odessa and Mariupol, and a lesser invasion from Belarus would then follow. Russia, on the other hand, has always rejected any hostile intentions against Ukraine, dismissing claims as "hysteria."
Putin said on Wednesday that his administration is seeking assurances from the West that it would not deploy soldiers or military equipment "near Russian territory." The US embassy in Moscow is the country's last active US post, with a workforce of 120 people down from over 1,200 in early 2017, as per The Sun.