Russia may demand US to reduce diplomats to 300 or fewer

(AhlulBayt News Agency) - Russia's Foreign Ministry does not rule out ordering the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia to 300 people or below, the RIA news agency cited Georgy Borisenko, the head of the ministry's North America Department, as saying on Wednesday.

The statement came following warnings by Russian officials of their intention to respond to the September shutdown of Russian diplomatic missions across the US, including its consulate in the west coast city of San Francisco.

In July, Moscow ordered the US to cut the number of its diplomatic and technical staff working in Russia by around 60 percent, to 455, part of a diplomatic row.

The figure of 455 was meant to mirror the total number of Russian diplomats working in the US, but also included Russian nationals working at the United Nations in New York, Borisenko told the agency.

"The fact that in the summer we took into account the people working for Russia's mission at the UN, this was good will," Borisenko told RIA.

"If they haven't appreciated this, we have the full right to reduce ... the number of US diplomats," he said, saying Moscow could stop taking Russian UN staff into account when calculating what parity between the two countries meant.

"In this case, the number of American personnel in Russia should decline to a level of 300 or below."

The development came two days after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his American counterpart, Rex Tillerson, that the Russian diplomatic properties had been "illegally seized" by the US government, demanding their return to Moscow's embassy in Washington.

Lavrov further warned Tillerson during a phone conversation that Washington should be prepared for the consequences and possible retaliation if Russian diplomatic properties were not returned.

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