Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Russia would expel 10 U.S. diplomats and blacklist eight U.S. officials in response to U.S. sanctions and expulsions.
The expected tit-for-tat measures by Russia deepen the strains between the two countries, but Moscow kept its response relatively proportional. The Kremlin also signalled a willingness to consider a summit between President Vladimir Putin and President Biden even as tensions grow.
Lavrov said Russia would soon announce which eight U.S. officials would be barred by Russia. Moscow would also stop the activities of American organizations and funds that it finds "interfere" in its affairs.
But he said Russia would refrain from imposing "painful measures" against American companies, keeping that option in reserve.
Lavrov said presidential aide Yuri Ushakov called on the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, to return to Washington "for consultations there." The Foreign Ministry said, given the "extremely tense" situation, both ambassadors should be in their home capitals for consultations.
Russia recalled its ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, from the United States last month after Biden agreed in a television interview that Putin was "a killer." No decision has been made on his return.
“This afternoon, I spoke with Ambassador Ushakov and received an outline of Russian government measures. We are awaiting details,” Sullivan said. “I cannot comment further until we have more information.”
Why the U.S. levelled the latest sanctions
A Russian Foreign Ministry statement Friday evening said it would like to avoid further escalation of tensions with the United States and sought a calm and professional dialogue, but that its wave of sanctions could not go unpunished.
Russia announced its retaliatory steps after Putin chaired a meeting of Russia's Security Council after the U.S. sanctions and other measures Thursday.
Washington said it would expel 10 Russian diplomats as well as place sanctions on 32 Russia-related individuals and companies accused of interfering in the 2020 presidential election, spreading disinformation and other harmful actions. U.S. officials claim most of the diplomats on the expulsion list are intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover.
Lavrov said Putin had decided on a list of measures to answer "the absolutely hostile and unprovoked actions that Washington has announced with regard to Russia, our citizens, individuals, and legal entities and with regard to our financial system."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin and President Biden “saw eye to eye” on the need to de-escalate tensions in U.S.-Russia relations, but “our U.S. counterparts’ liking for sanctions remains unacceptable.”
“President Putin talked about the feasibility of building, normalizing and de-escalating our relations,” Peskov said. “He talks about it consistently. He is convinced of it. He has stated repeatedly that we are ready to develop our dialogue to the extent that our counterparts are ready to do it.”
Washington also banned U.S. financial institutions from buying Russian bonds from Russia’s central bank, Finance Ministry or national wealth fund. The move could deter investment in the bonds and increase Russian borrowing costs. Peskov said Russia’s economy would continue to work efficiently despite the ban.
The Biden administration also sanctioned Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, the SVR, formally accusing it of the sweeping SolarWinds cyberattack, which targeted government agencies and private companies.
The Washingon Post