An aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin said today that Russia expects to fill the vacant posts that were created when the U.S. expelled dozens of Russian diplomats -- an apparent confirmation that what was seen as an aggressive U.S. move may have been more bark than bite.
"We are convinced that these vacancies [after the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the U.S. and U.S. diplomats from Russia] will not remain as such and will be ultimately filled, both in the U.S. and in Russia," Yuri Ushakov told reporters, according to Russia's TASS news agency. "So far, we cannot say how it would actually be done, since our diplomats have already left the United States while U.S. diplomats are still in Russia."
"These expulsions, you know, are to one's own prejudice, since, as a rule, they entail a tit-for-tat response," he said. "I don’t know what the Americans were after when they expelled 60 diplomats. If they wanted to reduce their diplomatic staff in Russia, it could have been done without expelling our diplomats."
Ushakov's comments come after a U.S. State Department official reportedly told Western media outlets that the Russians would be able to re-fill the posts, as the overall size of the Russia's diplomatic footprint had not changed.
"The Russian government remains free to request accreditation for vacant positions in its bilateral mission. Any requests for new diplomatic accreditation will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis," the official said, according to the AFP.
The Trump administration, in coordination with more than two dozen other countries, announced the expulsions of scores of Russian diplomatic officials -- some suspected of being intelligence officers -- from embassies and consulates in Europe and elsewhere in response to the alleged poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal in England early last month. The Russian government has maintained its innocence in the chemical attack.
The U.S. kicked out 60 officials in total, far more than any other nation, in a diplomatic protest that surprised some observers at the time, considering President Trump's public affinity for Putin. The U.S. also closed the Russian consulate in Seattle, Washington. The Kremlin responded by expelling the same number of U.S. officials and shuttering the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg.
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