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Kremlin to kick out 10 US diplomats in response to US sanctions

MOSCOW — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Moscow will order 10 U.S. diplomats to leave Russia in a retaliatory response to the U.S. sanctions.

Lavrov also said that Moscow will add eight U.S. officials to its sanctions list and move to restrict and stop the activities of U.S. nongovernment organizations from interfering in Russia’s politics.

He added that while Russia has a possibility to take “painful measures” against the American business in Russia, it wouldn’t immediately move to do that

The moves follow a barrage of new sanctions on Russia announced this week by the Biden administration.

While the U.S. wields the power to cripple the Russian economy, Moscow lacks levers to respond in kind, although it potentially could hurt American interests in many other ways around the globe.

Despite its heated rhetoric, Moscow will likely refrain from raising the stakes too high, for now, to avoid provoking even harder-hitting punitive measures from the U.S. But some observers predict that Russia and China will quickly edge closer to coordinate their policies amid the growing U.S. pressure.

Russia has denied interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and involvement in the SolarWind hack of federal agencies — the activities punished by the latest U.S. sanctions. The Russian Foreign Ministry warned of an “inevitable” retaliation, charging that “Washington should realize that it will have to pay a price for the degradation of bilateral ties.”

The U.S. on Thursday ordered 10 Russian diplomats expelled, targeted dozens of companies and people, and imposed new curbs on Russia’s ability to borrow money. Pundits predicted Moscow would almost certainly respond in kind to the expulsions but would refrain from any other significant moves to avoid a further escalation.

President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, invited U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan on Friday to tell him about the Russian response, but the Kremlin wouldn’t say what measures he announced.

Russia’s economic potential and its global reach are limited compared with the Soviet Union that competed with the U.S for international influence during the Cold War. Still, Russia’s nuclear arsenal and its leverage in many parts of the world make it a power that Washington needs to reckon with.

Summit offer analyzed

Aware of that, President Joe Biden called for de-escalating tensions and held the door open for cooperation with Russia in certain areas. Biden said he told Putin in Tuesday’s call that he chose not to impose tougher sanctions for now and proposed to meet in a third country in the summer.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the summit offer was being analyzed.

While the new U.S. sanctions further limited Russia’s ability to borrow money by banning U.S. financial institutions from buying Russian government bonds directly from state institutions, they didn’t target the secondary market.

“It’s very important that there’re no sanctions on secondary debt because that means that non-U.S. persons can buy the debt and sell it to the U.S. persons,” said Tom Adshead, director of research at Macro-Advisory Ltd, an analytics and advisory company.

Tougher restrictions would also hurt Western businesses, inflict significant economic pain on the Russian population and allow Putin to rally anti-U.S. sentiments to shore up his rule.

Ramping up sanctions could eventually drive Russia into a corner and provoke even more reckless Kremlin action, such as a potential escalation in Ukraine, which has recently faced a surge in clashes with Russia-backed separatists in the east and a massive Russian troops buildup across the border.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in Paris on Friday to discuss the tensions with French President Emmanuel Macron. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was to join them in a call later.

Fyodor Lukyanov, a top foreign policy expert who leads the Moscow-based Council for Foreign and Defense Policies, predicted Putin would likely accept Biden’s invitation to join next week’s call on climate change but could drag his feet on accepting the summit offer.

No way to make deals

“There is no way to make any deals,” Lukyanov said. “There is a mutual antipathy and a total lack of trust.”

He charged that the only practical outcome of the summit could be an agreement to launch long and difficult talks on a replacement to the New START nuclear reduction agreement that Russia and the U.S. extended in February for another five years.

Lukyanov forecast that Russia will likely limit its response to the new sanctions to a retaliatory expulsion of diplomats, but noted that the growing U.S. pressure will push Russia and China closer together in the long run.

“Closer cooperation with China on coordinating actions to contain the United States will develop more quickly now as the Chinese are interested in that,” Lukyanov said. While Russia lacks tools for a symmetrical answer to the U.S. sanctions, “it has ample capabilities to stimulate changes in the world order,” he added.

Konstantin Kosachev, the Kremlin-connected deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, said that by hitting Russia with sanctions and proposing a summit at the same time, the U.S. sought to take a commanding stance.

“Russia’s consent would be interpreted as a reflection of its desire to soften the sanctions, allowing the U.S. to secure a dominant position at the meeting, while our refusal to meet would be a convenient pretext for more punitive measures,” Kosachev wrote on Facebook.

He argued that Russia should retaliate quickly and not rush to accept Biden’s summit offer.

“Revenge is a dish best served cold,” Kosachev wrote. “I believe the saying is quite adaptable to a situation when we talk not about revenge but a due answer to aggressive action by an opponent.”

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