MOSCOW - Russia's Foreign Ministry on Friday suggested that President Vladimir Putin expel 35 U.S. diplomats and close two properties used by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as part of the growing diplomatic slugfest over Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
The tit-for-tat measures were suggested one day after the President Barack Obama announced he would expel 35 Russian diplomats from the United States and order the closure of Russian-owned facilities on Maryland's Eastern Shore and on Long Island in New York believed to have been used for intelligence purposes.
"It is regrettable that the Obama administration, which started out by restoring our ties, is ending its term in an anti-Russia agony. RIP," wrote Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev on Twitter on Friday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a statement carried by the Interfax news service called for 31 employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and four diplomats from the U.S. Consulate-General in St. Petersburg to be declared "persona non-grata" and forced to leave the country.
Further, he suggested the Russian government ban the use of a vacation cottage, or dacha, on the outskirts of Moscow often used for holiday receptions and a warehouse in the Russian capital used by diplomatic staff.
"We hope that these proposals will be considered as quickly as possible," Lavrov said, portraying the response as symmetrical to the U.S. measures. "Of course, we cannot leave such acts unanswered; reciprocity is a diplomatic law in international relations."
Lavrov also denied accusations made by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian state-backed hackers had leaked information about former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in order to sway the election in favor of her opponent, President-elect Donald Trump.
Russian politicians and officials have been sounding off for the last day on how to respond to the Obama administrations sweeping measures against Russia, the largest mass expulsion of diplomats since the U.S. expelled 51 Russian diplomats in 2001 for spying. Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov on Friday promised that Russia's response would "cause serious discomfort to the American side."
But other Russian officials have suggested hedging the response, so as not to antagonize the incoming Trump administration, which Moscow has hoped will be more amenable to its interests. They, like Medvedev, have sought to focus blame for the new sanctions on the Obama administration, which is in its final month.
"Countermeasures, which are typically mandatory, should be weighted in this case, considering the known circumstances of the transitional period and the possible response of the U.S. president-elect," Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia's upper house of parliament.
A final decision on a Russian response will be made by Putin and is expected on Friday.