Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he warned his Russian counterpart relations between the United States and Russia could worsen, and they “just did.”
Russia’s intent to expel 755 U.S. diplomats and seizure of two U.S. properties in Russia has put relations between the two countries “under considerable stress,” said Tillerson at a Tuesday press conference at the State Department.
Russia announced the diplomatic measures Friday after the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly approved sanctions legislation that targets Russia, Iran and North Korea. The bill requires congressional approval, or Russia to meet conditions, before the administration could lift sanctions against Russia. Tillerson argued that limited his flexibility in negotiations with the Russia government.
“Neither the president nor I were very happy about that,” said Tillerson. “We were clear we didn’t think it was going to be helpful to our efforts, but that’s the decision they made in a very overwhelming way. I think the president respects that, and all indications are he will sign that bill.”
Tillerson said he has already spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, describing the conversation as “professional.” He noted he plans to meet with Lavrov this weekend at diplomatic meetings in Manila.
The Russian government mandated U.S. diplomats clear out of two Russian properties by Tuesday.
“The U.S. Embassy was able to access its recreational facility this morning,” according to a State Department official. “We removed the remaining furniture, kitchen and BBQ items, and the playground set. We also removed all items from the Embassy warehouse.”
The U.S. has until September 1 to reduce its diplomatic staff by 755, the Russian government announced.
In December, the Obama administration seized two Russian government compounds – in New York and Maryland – and ejected 35 Russian diplomats for interfering in the U.S. election, spying and harassment of U.S. diplomats.
In regular negotiations with the U.S., Russian officials have requested the government return their access to the two compounds. The Trump administration continues to prohibit their access to those properties.