Russia Holds Out Olive Branch After Ordering US Diplomatic Staff Cut

(CN) — The Kremlin on Monday urged the United States to press the restart button on US-Russia relations even as it ordered sweeping cuts of U.S. embassy personnel.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in Moscow that it will likely take time for the U.S. to recover from what he described as “political schizophrenia.”

But he also said Russia continued to be “interested in a steady development of our ties and are sorry to note that we are still far from that.”

Peskov’s statement came a day after Putin said in an interview on state-run Rossiya 1 television the U.S. would have to cut 755 of its embassy and consulate staff in Russia — the harshest diplomatic sanction the nation has imposed since 1986, during a break in relations during the Reagan administration.

“This is biting,” Putin said of the order.

But the Russian president appeared to try to soften the blow later in the interview, noting there are still areas, including space exploration and de-escalating the conflict in Syria, on which the two countries could still collaborate.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday announced that the U.S. should cut its embassy and consular employees to 455, the number that Russia has in the United States.

Along with the caps on embassy personnel announced Friday, it also declared the closure of a U.S. recreational retreat on the outskirts of Moscow and warehouse facilities.

Moscow’s action was a response to former U.S. President Barack Obama’s move to expel 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two Russian recreational retreats in the U.S. over reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Putin had refrained from retaliating until now in the hope that President Donald Trump would follow on his campaign promises to improve ties with Moscow and roll back the steps taken by Obama.

But the Congressional and FBI investigations into links between Trump’s campaign and Russia have dashed those hopes, and the overwhelming endorsement of a new package of stiff financial sanctions that passed Congress with veto-proof numbers last week dealt a new blow to Moscow’s aspirations.

The White House said that Trump will sign the package, and Putin responded without waiting for that to happen.

“We had hoped that the situation will somehow change, but apparently if it changes, it won’t be soon,” Putin said on Russian television on Sunday.

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