Russia said Wednesday it was ordering the United States embassy staff, who have been in Moscow for more than three years, to fly home by Jan. 31. The move comes in retaliation to what Moscow said was the U.S. decision to limit the terms of Russian diplomats.
The step, the latest in an escalating diplomatic row, comes after Russia's ambassador to the U.S. said last week that 27 Russian diplomats and their families were being expelled from the U.S. and would leave on Jan. 30.
"We ... intend to respond in a corresponding way. The U.S. embassy employees who have been in Moscow for more than three years must leave Russia by Jan. 31," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a briefing.
The RIA news agency cited her as saying that new U.S. rules meant Russian diplomats who had been forced to leave the U.S. were also banned from working as diplomats there for three years.
"Before July 1 next year, unless Washington waives the three-year rule and compromises, more (U.S.) workers (in Russia) will leave in numbers commensurate with the number of Russians announced by the State Department," she said.
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
Further reductions in the U.S. embassy staff in Moscow would put pressure on an operation that Washington has already described as being close to a "caretaker presence" amid tit-for-tat expulsions and other restrictions.
The embassy is the last operational U.S. mission in the country after consulates in Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg were closed and it has shrunk to 120 staff from about 1,200 in early 2017, Washington said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was not too late for Washington to stop Moscow from following through on the new expulsions if it abandoned its own plans to force out Russian diplomats.
Ties between Washington and Moscow, a post-Cold War low for years, are under pressure due to a Russian troop build-up near Ukraine.
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