MOSCOW – The Russian government announced Friday it would seize U.S. diplomatic properties and force the State Department to reduce its staff in Russia, possibly by hundreds of people, in retaliation for a financial sanctions bill just passed by the U.S. Congress.
The decision appeared to mark a turning point for the government of President Vladimir Putin, which has expressed hope of improved relations under President Trump. But Trump’s pledges to strengthen ties have produced few results, with much of the American political establishment enraged by U.S. intelligence findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.
“This is a landmark moment,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, a journalist for the newspaper Kommersant who regularly travels with Putin and has interviewed him extensively over the past 17 years. “His patience has seriously run out, and everything that he’s been putting off in this conflict, he’s now going to do.”
The announcement came the morning after Senate voted 98 to 2 for the legislation, which slaps new penalties on Russia and also limits Trump’s ability to lift anti-Russian sanctions already in place. The measure had previously passed the House. Trump’s aides have given mixed signals about whether the president will sign the bill, which also targets Iran and North Korea. Russia has promised additional retaliatory measures against the new sanctions once they are signed into law, possibly targeting U.S. commercial or trade interests.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Putin last year ordered a campaign of cyberattacks and propaganda aimed at discrediting Trump’s Democratic opponent,…
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