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Diplomat sees no out-of-court settlements to return Russian diplomatic property in US

Moscow has no plans to cut back any more US diplomatic staff in Russia, according to an envoy

HELSINKI, September 12. /TASS/. Moscow sees no off-court prospects to have Washington return its diplomatic property, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Tuesday after his two-day consultations with US Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon.

"Regrettably, I see no prospects for settling the problem with the return of diplomatic facilities," he said. "So, we will go to court, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has said." 

"I have mixed feelings… I cannot say we are completely satisfied with the results of this rather tense leg of our dialogue with the Americans," he said. "We used this opportunity to go through in detail, item by item, what has happened, to demonstrate to the Americans the absolute illegitimacy of their actions, to expose on concrete examples the groundlessness of their accusation in our respect and attempts, as a matter of fact, to reverse the sequence of events we have all seen."

Moscow is not planning further reductions of US diplomatic personnel in Russia so far, he said. "No, it doesn’t mean further reduction of the personnel of US diplomatic missions in Russia," he said when asked a corresponding question.

Russia’s filing a lawsuit against the United States over the seizure of the Russian diplomatic property is a matter of weeks, he went on. "Anyway, I think that it is a matter of weeks, not months. We will try to do that literally hot on the heels," he said.

"We are currently preparing documents and will not delay this process in any way," he stressed.

"We gave Americans a head start equal to the number of our staff working [in the Russian permanent delegation in the UN] in New York, but we can withdraw this advantage if new hostile unacceptable outrageous actions follow," he stressed. 

"Now, when emotions are running high and, I’m sure, there are hot heads in Washington who argue in favor of continuing this endless row of diplomatic blows with the Russian side, it would be helpful to remind them that the US carries responsibilities before all UN member countries, including Russia, for provision of normal operating conditions for missions at the UN," Ryabkov continued. "And to remind them that our requirement to reduce the number of the American staff and the Russian staff appointed in the country to the level that includes the size of the Russian mission is not some kind of a gift to them, but, on the contrary, a warning and, let’s put it this way, red traffic light: stop, change your mind," the Russian deputy foreign minister noted.

"Because otherwise we will interpret parity the way it should be interpreted if we strictly proceed from the fact that bilateral issues are one thing, and the activity issues of the UN that is functioning on the US territory and the hosting side, the US, bears certain responsibilities before the UN, is quite another thing, and mixing both would be totally wrong," Ryabkov concluded.

Shannon assured the Russian side that the instruction to reduce the US diplomatic staff in Russia has been fulfilled.

"We haven’t yet certified the completion by the American side of events connected with our instruction to balance the staff size in Russian foreign missions in the US and, correspondingly, bring it to parity with the American staff in Russia," the high-profile diplomat noted. "During yesterday’s consultations, Americans assured us in a firm and unambiguous way that this instruction had been fulfilled."

"Anyway, during yesterday’s consultations Americans assured us in a firm and unambiguous way that this instruction had been fulfilled," Ryabkov noted. "Here we are guided by Ronald Reagan’s famous formula, who frequently used our Russian proverb: Trust, but verify."

"This is the case when we have to see it for ourselves," the deputy foreign minister stressed.

"As far as the adjustment of conditions and personnel strength (of the US diplomatic missions in Russia) in accordance with those established for our people in the United States are concerned, this is a normal correction process," Ryabkov said. "This process does not constitute some actions that complicate the situation still further. It is rather normalization of the situation. The Americans will just no longer enjoy some extra bonuses or privileges they have had for a certain period of time."

"After Washington’s harsh steps in relation to our foreign offices leaving such a state of affairs as it is further on looked impossible," Ryabkov said. "We would not like to turn this into a subject matter of another surge of emotions and arguments."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier said Moscow was examining the conditions in which US offices operate in Russia and their Russian counterparts in the United States in order to bring these conditions in full conformity with parity.".

On July 28, Moscow suggested Washington should equal the American diplomatic and support staff in Russia with the exact number of the Russian staff in the US by September 1. This means that the total number of employees engaged in American diplomatic missions in Russia will be reduced to 455 people. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, specified in an interview with VGTRK TV presenter Vladimir Solovyev on July 30 that 755 US diplomats and support staff workers have to leave Russia.

On September 2, the United States’ authorities closed Russia’s consulate general in San Francisco, the trade mission in Washington and its office in New York. The former two facilities are Russia’s government property and enjoy diplomatic immunity. Moscow considers the seizure of Russian diplomatic property as an openly hostile act and calls on the United States to immediately return these facilities.