Moscow – Russia is expelling 35 US diplomats in response to US President Barack Obama’s expulsion of the same number of Russian officials in a hacking row, according to a statement from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday.
“We cannot leave such actions without a response. Reciprocity is the law of diplomacy and international relations,” Lavrov said in comments carried by state media.
According to the statement, 31 US diplomats from Moscow and four from St Petersburg would now be persona non grata. Russian President Vladimir Putin would have to sign off on the expulsions.
Obama announced on Thursday that he had passed executive actions to impose sanctions on Russia’s cyber intelligence community, including several companies, and would expel 35 Russian diplomats.
US President Barack Obama chats with Russian President Vladimir Putin following a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit September 5, 2016 in Hangzhou, China. Obama ordered sanctions on December 29, 2016, against Russia in response to the Russian government’s “aggressive harassment of US officials and cyber operations” aimed at the US election. (Credit Image: © Alexei Druzhinin/Planet Pix via ZUMA Wire)
The measures were in response to hacking of Democratic Party emails during the US presidential election campaign that exposed favouritism toward Hillary Clinton over rival Bernie Sanders.
The exposé, which the US leadership believes was perpetrated with support from the Russian government, was a boon to Republican candidate Donald Trump, who went on to win the election.
Trump, who has previously praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and vowed to seek better relations with the country, could theoretically reverse Obama’s executive actions when he enters office on January 20.
Trump’s senior advisor Kellyanne Conway told broadcaster CNN that Obama’s measures were being seen as an attempt to “box in” the incoming administration.
Obama’s moves prompted Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to say “RIP” to the outgoing US administration on Friday.
“It is regrettable that the Obama administration, which started out by restoring our ties, is ending its term in an anti-Russia agony. RIP,” Medvedev said on Twitter in English.
Obama promised a “reset” in the relationship with Russia during his first term. But US-Russian ties have plummeted to a post-Cold War low in recent years as the world powers clashed over conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.