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Russia Retaliates Against U.S. Action And Expels U.S. Officials


Yesterday Russia hit back for the expulsion of 60 of its diplomats from the United States and for the closure of its consulate in Seattle. Now 60 American diplomats in Russia have been given a week to pack their bags, and the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg has until Sunday to shut its doors. This all stems from allegations that Russia was involved in poisoning a former double agent and his daughter in Great Britain earlier this month. We have NPR's Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim here with us to find out more. Hey, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So Russia went one for one for one, 60 for 60, a consulate for a consulate. Does any of this come as a surprise?

KIM: Well, not really. It's not that surprising. The Kremlin has said that it would respond in a so-called reciprocal fashion. But I think what's troubling here is that it's the latest in a tit for tat that has been going on for more than a year. It all started back in December 2016, in the last days of the Obama administration, when President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in response to Russian interference in the election. And at the time, President Putin surprised everyone by not retaliating. There were really very high hopes here in Moscow for a fresh start with the Trump administration, and instead we've seen this escalation over the past year, and many people see this as a race to the bottom.

KING: I mean, at a certain point, you kind of run out of people to kick out of the country, right? Should we expect a further escalation? What do you think that's going to look like?

KIM: Well, it's possible. But, as you said, I mean, there's really not many assets anymore that you can cut in this tit for tat. Yesterday Ambassador Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador here, told a Russian TV channel that Russian assets may be frozen. And when he was called into the foreign ministry, yeah, he was rebuked for that.

KING: Interesting. These expulsions actually do have an impact on the lives of ordinary Russians. What are those?

KIM: It's a really enormous impact, and I think this part of the story often gets lost. It's basically become impossible for Russians to get visas in Russia. I mean, until yesterday, the U.S. had an embassy and a consulate in Moscow plus three consulates across the country. I was in Vladivostok, on Russia's Pacific coast, about a month ago, and I visited the U.S. consulate. It's empty. It's practically impossible to get visas outside of Moscow, and even here, the wait times for interviews are literally months.

KING: People must be really frustrated. What do you think all of this telegraphs to us about the future of U.S.-Russia relations?

KIM: Well, I mean, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert yesterday said the U.S. is still reviewing these expulsions and may respond. But, as we said, you know, there's a lot of speculation. There's speculation that the U.S. could still sanction individual businessmen, Russian businessmen who are close to the Kremlin. But, as you said, you know, both sides are running out of diplomatic targets to hit.

KING: I mean, the U.S. is not alone here. More than two dozen countries have expelled Russian diplomats. What's Russia saying to them?

KIM: Well, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said yesterday that these countries could also expect a tit for tat for these expulsions. But compared to the U.S., many of them expelled a symbolic amount of diplomats, really just a handful of people. We expect those announcements concerning the other countries as early as today.

KING: OK. NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Thanks, Lucian.

KIM: Thanks, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.