Russia Retaliates for U.S. Election Sanctions

Image: President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017.
President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

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/ Source: NBC News
By Rachel Elbaum

LONDON — Russia on Friday ordered the U.S. to cut the number of its diplomats posted to Russia and said it was seizing two properties used by American officials in retaliation for a new bill of sanctions that overwhelmingly passed both the House and the Senate this week.

The new sanctions bill will now find its way to President Donald Trump’s desk, who will be under pressure to sign it into law after weeks of intense negotiations.

President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

Russia ordered the diplomats out by Sept. 1, so that only 455 will remain, and said U.S. use of its country house outside Moscow along with storage warehouses in the capital would be suspended from Aug. 1. U.S. officials won't say how many diplomats will have to leave to reach the 455-person limit imposed by Russia.

"This measure is further proof of the Unites States’ extremely hostile foreign policy," said Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement Friday, adding that the U.S. sanctions go against the principles of international law.

The move mirrors sanctions slapped on Russia by former President Barack Obama in response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. In December, the U.S. kicked out 35 Russian diplomats and seized two diplomatic properties in New York and Maryland.

Russia slammed Obama's actions at the time, but chose not to impose reciprocal measures.

"Ambassador [John] Tefft expressed his strong disappointment and protest" to Russia's moves, according to a U.S. embassy spokesperson in Moscow.

The White House was unclear about its plans for the bill, with communications director Anthony Scaramucci saying on CNN on Thursday that the president could sign the bill or veto it and negotiate a tougher deal against the Russians.

The Senate passed the bill, 98-2, two days after the House pushed the measure through by an overwhelming margin of 419-3. Both are veto-proof numbers, and the margins could become significant while the White House continues to waver on whether the president will sign the measure into law.

The legislation is aimed at punishing Moscow for interfering in the presidential election and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar al-Assad.

Significantly, it also includes a provision that would limit Trump's authority to lift the sanctions unilaterally, without Congress's involvement. In addition to the sanctions on Russia, the bill includes sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the bill's passage was long overdue, a jab at Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress. McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has called Putin a murderer and a thug.

"Over the last eight months what price has Russia paid for attacking our elections?" McCain asked. "Very little."

For Trump, signing a bill that penalizes Russia's election interference would mark a significant shift. He's repeatedly downplayed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the U.S. election.

Rachel Elbaum and Laura Saravia reported from London, and Aggelos Petropoulos from Moscow.

Associated Press, Laura Saravia and Aggelos Petropoulos contributed.