Russia says US can make the first move to fix souring relations

Putin spokesman says US needs to recover from ‘acute attack of political schizophrenia’

US president Donald Trump during a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

US president Donald Trump during a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photograph: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

 

Russia urged the US to show the political will to mend relations on Monday after Vladimir Putin ordered drastic cuts to the American diplomatic mission.

Mr Putin announced the expulsion of hundreds of staff from the American embassy and consulate offices on Sunday as the Kremlin retaliated against the US Senate’s vote for harsher economic sanctions against Russia last week.

The US House of Representatives and the Senate had given overwhelming approval for a Bill to tighten existing sanctions in order to punish the Kremlin for its aggressive policies in Ukraine and for allegedly interfering in the US presidential election that swept Donald Trump to power.

Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Monday that Russia remained interested in a constructive relationship with the US, but laid responsibility for improving ties at Washington’s door. The US needed to recover from “an acute attack of political schizophrenia” and refrain from attempts to impose a “sanctions dictatorship”, he told reporters in Moscow.

Tough measures

Mr Putin ordered 755 staff to leave the US embassy in Moscow and consulate offices in Saint Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Vladivostok by September 1st to bring the American diplomatic presence to par with the Russian mission in America. Russia would also seize two properties used by the US embassy in Moscow, including a warehouse and a holiday house in a leafy, riverside neighbourhood in the city.

Mr Putin suggested that the Kremlin could consider additional measures against the US but added he “was against it as of today”. There were still areas where Russia and the US were co-operating, including creating a de-escalation zone in southern Syria, he said.

Trump is now seen in Russia as a weak politician beholden to the US elite and lawmakers

Although Mr Trump has frequently called for warmer US-Russia relations, allegations that the Kremlin meddled in the US election have prompted the president’s Republican party to unite with Democrats and push for even tougher sanctions than those introduced by Barack Obama’s administration. New legislation adopted by the Congress last week deprives Mr Trump of easing the penalties without approval from legislators, meaning Russia will likely remain burdened by sanctions for many years.

Mr Putin’s decision to retaliate against the US without waiting for Mr Trump to sign off on the new US sanctions legislation was a sign that the Kremlin had lost all faith in the new American president’s ability to bring about a detente, analysts said.

“Trump is now seen in Russia as a weak politician beholden to the US elite and lawmakers,” Alexei Makarkin, a Russian political scientist, told the business daily Vedomosti.

Lost all hope

The unprecedented scale of Russia’s expulsion of US diplomats indicated that Moscow had lost all hope that Mr Trump’s administration would usher in better relations, said Vasily Kashin, a senior research fellow at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

Most observers agreed that Russia had far more to lose than the US from the new tougher sanctions that will condemn its already struggling economy to stagnation for years to come

Western commentators warned that Moscow would seek to drive a wedge between the US and the European Union, where some countries are alarmed that the new sanctions will block investment in oil and gas export pipelines bringing much needed Russian energy supplies to the continent. Others said that deteriorating relations with Washington would drive Russia into a closer alliance with China to challenge US efforts to restrain North Korea’s belligerent ballistic weapons programme.

But most observers agreed that Russia had far more to lose than the US from the new tougher sanctions that will condemn its already struggling economy to stagnation for years to come.

Grigory Yavlinsky, the founder of Yabloko opposition party, said the US Congress vote was a “symbol of the total collapse of Putin’s foreign policy”.

The Russian authorities had “squandered the nation’s geopolitical capital” leaving the country as “an empty vessel” in “almost total isolation”, he wrote on Facebook on Monday.