Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the remarks in a telephone conversation with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson on Friday, adding that Moscow sought to mend the bilateral ties based on “mutual respect and balance of interests,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The statement further said that the senior Russian diplomat and his US opposite number “agreed to maintain contact on a range of bilateral issues.”
Back in December last year, the already tense Moscow-Washington ties further deteriorated during the administration of former US President Barack Obama when the Russian diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland were seized over allegations of Moscow’s involvement in hacking the 2016 US presidential election, which Moscow flatly denies.
Obama also ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats over the hacking accusation, claiming that Russia used the property for “intelligence-related purposes.” All the allegations have since been strongly denied by Russia.
Lavrov’s phone conversation with Tillerson came a few hours after the Russian Foreign Ministry called on the US to reduce the number of its diplomats on Russian soil to 455 — matching the number of Russian diplomats in America — by September 1. It also announced that it was suspending the use of all storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow, and a cottage in Serebryaniy Bor by the US Embassy in Russia as of August 1.
Kremlin’s belated measures against Washington came a day after the US Congress approved new anti-Russia sanctions, which seemed to be the boiling point for Moscow. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin had vowed to take counter-measures against the White House if it had implemented its planned embargoes against Moscow.
Lavrov, as quoted by the Friday statement, told Tillerson that Moscow’s intention “to close access to two US embassy facilities” and cut US diplomatic staff on Russian soil in a bid to “equal the number of US and Russian diplomatic missions” had been prompted by “a number of Washington’s hostile steps.”
“Such actions included illegal sanctions against Russia, calumny against it, mass expulsion of diplomats and seizure of our diplomatic property,” the statement further read.
Earlier this month, Lavrov had warned Washington that if it decided not to solve the persistent issue of expulsion of Moscow’s diplomats and the seizure of Russian property in the US, Kremlin would have “to take counter-actions.”
‘Russophobic forces dictating US policies’
Referring to the much-blamed US sanctions against Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement on Friday further said that “the latest developments have demonstrated that the US policy turns out to be in the hands of Russophobic forces that are pushing Washington towards confrontation.”
It added that the counter-measures adopted by Moscow on Friday were “limited and absolutely adequate” aimed at defending Russia’s legal interests, saying that they should not be perceived as an “eye for eye” response. It further expressed hope that “the US side would finally think about pernicious consequences of its policy.”