Russia demands US return diplomat compounds ahead of talks

Agence France Presse

Posted at Jul 18 2017 09:04 AM

Russia's President Vladimir Putin makes his annual New Year address to the nation in Moscow, Russia, December 31, 2016. Reuters

MOSCOW, Russia - The Kremlin said Washington must unconditionally restore its access to diplomatic compounds in the United States as high-level talks on bilateral problems were set to get underway on Monday.

Russia is angry that Washington is still barring its diplomats from using two compounds in the states of New York and Maryland.

The then president, Barack Obama, in December ordered the ban in response to suspected Russian meddling in the US election. 

"We consider it absolutely unacceptable to place conditions on the return of diplomatic property, we consider that it must be returned without any conditions and talking," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

When President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Donald Trump met for the first time at the G20 summit in Hamburg this month, the Kremlin strongman raised the question of the diplomatic sites "quite unambiguously," Peskov said.

He added that "we still hope our American colleagues will show political wisdom and political will."

The row was set to be high on the agenda at talks in Washington Monday between Thomas Shannon, the US State Department's No. 3, and Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov.

Those talks had been scheduled for June, but Russia cancelled them at the time, citing new US sanctions linked to the conflict in Ukraine.

The US side is seeking "areas that we could deal with some of these so-called irritants," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said last week.

The issues of Ukraine and Syria were also on the agenda, according to US diplomats.


Obama announced the US was shutting down residential complexes in December at the same time as he expelled 35 Russian diplomats for spying.

He said the measures were in response to US intelligence reports of Russian hacking and an alleged influence campaign to sway the US presidential election in Trump's favour, describing the compounds as used by Moscow for "intelligence-related purposes."

At the time Putin held off from retaliating, saying he would wait to see how Trump reacted after he came into the White House. 

But hope that Trump will soon follow up on campaign pledges to boost relations have fizzled as any ties to Moscow have become toxic for the White House amid a maelstrom of US investigations into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. 

Now Russia has decided to ratchet up threats that it could belatedly take revenge by blocking a country house and a storage facility used by the US Embassy in Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week: "If Washington decides not to solve this issue, we will have to take counter actions."

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova complained last week that the US was also refusing to issue visas for Russian diplomats to replace those expelled.


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