- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2017

Russia is preparing to retaliate against the United States for seizing two diplomatic compounds and expelling nearly three dozen Russian nationals late last year, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Friday, putting pressure on President Trump to reverse Obama-era sanctions imposed over Moscow’s meddling in last year’s election.

Addressing reporters in Moscow, Ms. Zakharova warned Russia will soon react in kind if the Trump administration continues to keep in place sanctions that resulted in the abrupt seizure last December of compounds in New York and Maryland along with the expulsion of 35 supposed diplomats.

“The seized compounds have not been returned yet,” Ms. Zakharova said, as translated by TASS, a state-owned newswire. “Washington has not only failed to cancel the decision on the expulsion of our diplomats, but it also refuses to issue visas to those who are scheduled to replace the expelled personnel.”

“If there is no progress, we will have to take retaliatory measures,” she added. “As for the measures — the number of personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow significantly exceeds the number of our personnel working in Washington. So, one of the options is that, apart from expelling the corresponding number of U.S. diplomats, we will just have to even the number of personnel.”

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russian state-sponsored hackers and propagandists interfered in last year’s White House race by targeting Mr. Trump’s former Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. The Obama administration subsequently sanctioned Russia by seizing compounds and expelling diplomats in late December, but the Russian government, including President Vladimir Putin, have continued to deny responsibility.

The Trump administration has weighed returning the compounds in recent months and may discuss the matter during a meeting Monday between U.S. State Department Undersecretary Tom Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, raising concerns among Democratic lawmakers.

“We strongly urge the State Department not to return the diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York to the Government of the Russian Federation at this time,” a group of four Senate Democrats wrote in a letter to Mr. Shannon on Monday. “Simply put, the Russian government has done nothing to deserve renewed access to these compounds.”

The compounds in question include facilities in Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Long Island, New York. Russian diplomats have said the compounds are treated as vacation homes, but U.S. officials claimed they were also used by Moscow for intelligence-related purposes.

Mr. Putin has not finalized any retaliatory measures as of Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to Reuters.

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