MOSCOW, July 30. /TASS/. Russia has demanded the United States reduce its diplomatic personnel in Russia nearly three-fold, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday, adding that he doesn’t think further countermeasures in response to Washington’s unfriendly policy would be expedient right now as they might harm Moscow’s international ties.
"As for other possible measures or is that too much or not, it is quite painful from the point of view of the operation the diplomatic mission. Since out of more than a thousand of the employees, diplomats and technical staff, who has been and are still working in Russia, 755 will have to finish their work in Russia," he said in an interview with VGTRK host Vladimir Solovyov.
The president explained why response measures have been taken now. "Because the American side once again made an absolutely ungrounded, which is important, step to deteriorate the Russian-US relations, imposing illegal restrictions and trying to press other countries, including its allies, which are interested in the development and maintaining of relations with Russia," he said, obviously referring to the US bill toughening the anti-Russian sanctions.
"We have been waiting for quite a long time for any positive changes [in the United States’ attitudes to Russia], we have hoped that the situation will change somehow. But, to all appearances, even if it ever changes, it will not be soon," he said in an interview with VGTRK host Vladimir Solovyov. "I thought we must demonstrate that we are not going to leave anything unanswered either."
Possibilities for further countersanctions…
Putin stressed that Russian has a wide set of possible extra restrictions in respect of the United States. "The question is whether it is expedient to make further steps and which steps we can make," he said.
"We do have what to say and impose restrictions in such spheres of our joint activities that would be very painful for the US side. But I don’t think it should be done as it would harm the development of international relations," he said, adding that it would harm "not only the Russian-US relations as such but would do certain damage to us."
"Theoretically, there might come the time when losses from attempts to exert pressure on Russia would be equal to the negative impacts stemming from certain restrictions on our cooperation. Well, when such a moment comes, we can look at other options of responses. But I hope such a moment will never come. As of today, I am against," Putin said.
… or possibilities for cooperation
Nevertheless, the Russian leader stressed, Russia and the United States have sphere where cooperation is very important. "There are very important spheres of cooperation, including non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - and here we are playing the first violin, along with the Unites States, and strengthening of this regime, as well as fighting against terrorism," he said.
According to Putin, such cooperation is yielding good results. "Judging by what has been done recently (let us wait and see how the situation develops further), the establishment of the de-escalation zone in Syria is a concrete step, a concrete result of joint efforts," he underscored. "Not only in the interests of Syria and Russia but also in the interests of Jordan and Israel, and, hence, in the interests of the United States as this is region of US interests. So, we are working and achieving results even now, in this rather difficult situation."
The Russian president cited other areas of possible cooperation. "Well, we have good plans for cooperation in outer space. For instance, both our and American researchers are interested in possible joint efforts to explore Venus," he noted.
Other major areas of cooperation, in his words, are problems of cyber security. "I have already told that, we have repeatedly invited the American side to arrange cooperation to secure out interests, both Russia’s and the United States’ and global, and to establish control over such negative activities as cyber crime," he said. "Instead of making concrete steps to begin constructive cooperation, we only hear ungrounded accusations of meddling in the United States’ domestic affairs."
Moreover, the two countries can establish economic cooperation, including such sectors as energy, aviation, space exploration. "We have done much in the sphere of aviation, in the sphere of space exploration and we have good perspectives, let alone US spacecraft that are launched by our engines, let alone the international space program," he added.
US’ sanctions against Russia
Earlier in the week, the US Senate adopted by an overwhelming majority of 98 against 2 votes a bill toughening the US’ unilateral sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea. Previously, the bill won the majority of votes ($19 against 3) in the House of Representatives. Now, Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act has been referred to President Donald Trump. The White House says Trump will sign the document.
The Russian foreign ministry said that in response to the US’ fresh round of anti-Russian sanctions it reduced the number of US diplomats in Russia to 455, or as many as there are Russian diplomats serving in the United States, and closes access to the embassy’s compound in Serebryany Bor and storage facilities in Moscow from August 1.
Strains in relations between Russia and the United States started in 2014, after Crimea’s reunification with Russia. Washington froze cooperation with Moscow in many areas having imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and legal entities. Russia imposed countersanctions and announced the suspension of the deal on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium and two research programs in nuclear physics over a "threat to strategic stability stemming from unfriendly actions."
In late 2016, the United States imposed another round of sanctions against Russian intelligence services and a number of individuals having accused them of meddling with the US elections. The US administration also expelled 35 Russia diplomats and seized two Russian compounds in the States of New York and Maryland.