MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin announced on Sunday that the US diplomatic mission in Russia would have to cut its staff by 755 employees, a response to the new US sanctions that escalated the tensions between Washington and Moscow.
“Over 1,000 employees — diplomats and technical workers — worked and continue to work today in Russia; 755 will have to stop this activity,” he said, according to both a clip shown on state-run Rossiya 1 television and a transcript provided by the Interfax news agency.
Although the reduction in US diplomatic staff had been announced on Friday, in response to a law passed in Congress last week expanding sanctions against Russia, the president’s statement was the first to confirm the large number of embassy personnel involved.
Speaking in a television interview on the Rossiya 1 network, Putin said that Russia had run out of patience waiting for relations with the United States to improve.
“We waited for quite some time that maybe something will change for the better, had such hope that the situation will somehow change, but, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon,” Putin said in the interview, according to Interfax news agency.
Although the initial news alerts in Russia said that Putin had ordered 755 Americans out of the country, the president had actually ordered an overall staff reduction. Not all of those leaving their posts would be Americans expelled from the country.
Part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that the Russian president used a Russian verb meaning to “pack up,” when referring to his action.
The State Department did not immediately offer a response to Putin’s statements.
It declined to give an exact number of American diplomats or other US officials in Russia, but the figure is believed to be about 400, some of whom have families accompanying them on diplomatic passports.
The vast majority of the more than 1,000 employees at the various US diplomatic missions in Russia, including the embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, and Yekaterinburg, are local employees.
In making the initial announcement on Friday, Russia announced that the US diplomatic staff would have to be reduced to 455, matching the number of Russians employed at diplomatic missions in the United States.
From the outset there was some confusion about how the Russians arrived at that number, so it was not clear how many Americans would actually have to leave Russia. Mission employees include scores of workers erecting a new building as well as translators, drivers, and a large number of support staff.
Russia has additional options available for further measures against US interests, Putin warned, without going into details. But for the moment, he said, he is opposed to using them. “I hope it will not come to this,” he said.
Russia has been accused of interfering in the US presidential election, including releasing hacked e-mails embarrassing to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.
Congress is also investigating the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, with President Donald Trump’s oldest son, Donald J. Trump Jr., recently confirming that he met with a Russian lawyer linked to the government who wanted to discuss removing an earlier round of sanctions.
Putin has denied any Russian interference in the US election, saying that anti-Russian sentiment in the United States was being used to drive an internal political battle.
On Friday, the White House announced that Trump would sign the law passed by Congress last week that strengthens existing sanctions and expands some of them, especially in the oil sector.
Putin said in the interview released Sunday that it was important not to let such actions go unanswered.
In December, President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shuttered two Russian diplomatic country estates in Maryland and on Long Island. Putin did not respond at that time, indicating he would wait for better relations with the next administration.
Even while announcing the sizable cuts, Putin held out hope that the worsening relations with Washington could be reversed. He noted the United States and Russia had cooperated in trying to establish safe zones in Syria and that there was a long history of shared projects in the oil sector.
In announcing the response on Friday, Russia said that it wanted to reduce the US diplomatic presence in Russia to 455 people, mirroring the number of Russian diplomats accredited to the United States.
On Friday, the US Embassy in Moscow issued a short statement in which the outgoing American ambassador, John F. Tefft, expressed “his strong disappointment and protest” over the cuts.