April 16, 2021
The Russian government announced the diplomats’ expulsion and a travel ban for some U.S. officials in a response to sanctions. But the moves, so far, seem intended to avoid escalation.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, seen earlier this month at the Kremlin, has ordered the expulsion of 10 American diplomats. Pool photo by Alexei Druzhinin
By Andrew E. Kramer | The New York Times
MOSCOW – The Russian government will expel 10 American diplomats and threatened to crack down on U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations in retaliation for sanctions announced this week by the Biden administration, Russia’s foreign minister said Friday.
The foreign ministry also offered what it called a suggestion that the American ambassador temporarily return to Washington and it banned entry into Russia by eight current and former United States officials, Sergey V. Lavrov, the foreign minister, said.
The response, mostly mirroring the diplomatic rebuke by the United States from the day before, suggested the Russian government did not intend an escalation that could worsen already dismal relations between the countries. Those relations have frayed in good part over Russian cyberattacks and interference in American elections.
President Biden had indicated that the new American sanctions would signal a harder line toward Moscow, though he left a door open for dialogue, after years of deferential treatment under the Trump administration. Mr. Lavrov called the sanctions an “absolutely unfriendly and unprovoked action.”
But with the Russian response to them largely limited to the expulsions and travel bans, it appears the Kremlin does not intend to raise the diplomatic stakes and may remain open to the invitation to a summit meeting, possibly this summer, that Mr. Biden extended to President Vladimir V. Putin this week.
President Biden announced sanctions against Russia on Thursday in retaliation for, among other things, recent cyberattacks. Doug Mills/The New York Times
The Biden administration expelled 10 diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Washington and sanctioned 32 entities and individuals for disinformation efforts and carrying out Moscow’s interference in the 2020 presidential election. Some of the U.S. measures are aimed at making it harder for Russia to participate in the global economy if the country carries on with its harmful actions.
“I chose to be proportionate,” Mr. Biden said Thursday at the White House, describing how he had warned Mr. Putin of what was coming in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship,” he said.
The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that the U.S. officials banned from entering the country included the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Wray; the director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines; Attorney General Merrick Garland; and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Others to face an entry ban include the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Michael Carvajal; the Domestic Policy Council director, Susan Rice; a former National Security Adviser, John Bolton; and a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, James Woolsey.
Along with the expulsions, the foreign ministry said it would close nongovernmental groups supported by the State Department if they interfered in Russia’s domestic politics, but did not specify which organizations might be shuttered.
Also on Friday, the United States ambassador to Russia, John J. Sullivan, was summoned to a meeting with a senior Kremlin foreign policy official, Yuri Ushakov, and advised to return to the United States for consultations.
It was not immediately clear if Mr. Sullivan would leave. In the statement, his departure was presented as a suggestion, not a demand. “It’s just obvious that, in this situation of extreme tension, there’s an objective need for both ambassadors to be in their capitals,” the statement said. Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, on March 21.
Diplomatic expressions of anger between Russia and Western nations, well-rehearsed in the seven years since Russia initiated a military incursion into Ukraine, typically play out over several days as choreographed exchanges of insults and tit-for-tat expulsions.
“In Washington, it seems, they don’t wish to make peace with the new geopolitical reality where there’s no place for unipolar diktat and the bankrupt scenario of ‘containing Moscow,’” the Russian foreign ministry statement said. It called U.S. policy toward Russia “myopic.”
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, had said earlier on Friday that the Russian government’s response should also be understood as “symmetrical,” suggesting a desire to avoid escalating.
In a rare acknowledgment of the lopsided nature of the relationship economically, the foreign ministry said it didn’t have an immediate response to the main financial sanction the United States announced Thursday — a limit on U.S. purchases of Russian government bonds. “We, of course, understand the limitation of our abilities to mirror a ‘squeeze’ on the American economy,” the ministry said.
Mr. Lavrov had said that if the situation worsened, Russia might target American companies that are vulnerable in some way.
In one regard, the Russian response went beyond the measures imposed by Western governments on Thursday. Because Poland, the statement said, had hurried to “sing along” with the U.S. measures and expel three diplomats, the Russian government would in retaliation expel five Polish diplomats.
Andrew E. Kramer is a reporter based in the Moscow bureau. He was part of a team that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for a series on Russia’s covert projection of power. @AndrewKramerNYT