Russian Federation orders USA to cut embassy staff in retaliation for sanctions

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The U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, John Tefft, has "expressed his strong disappointment and protest" over Russia's decision to cut U.S. diplomatic staff in Moscow and seize a dacha compound and warehouse used by American diplomats, a State Department official said on Friday.

"This means that the total number of personnel employed by US diplomatic and consular establishments in the Russian Federation has been reduced to 455 people".

The move was a further blow to hopes in Moscow that Trump's election might help improve ties that slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War over the Kremlin's meddling in Ukraine and alleged interference in the United States election.

"We will respond to the new possible sanctions against Russian Federation according to the latest version of the bill evaluated by Washington", Putin said during a meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto at the country's Savonlinna province.

The Senate's 98-2 passage of the sanctions bill, which followed a 419-3 vote in the House of Representatives, forces Trump to take a hard line on Moscow or veto the legislation and infuriate his fellow Republicans.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he "very much regrets" the worsening of relations between Russia and the United States.

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Democrats are likely lobbying Republicans to desert Rauner and vote to over-ride his expected veto. Governor Rauner holds the power to call it off, but there's no word if he's considering it.

The new USA embassy staffing level would be the same as at Russia's embassy in Washington.

The Senate voted decisively on Thursday to approve the new package of financial sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea two days after the House pushed the measure through by an overwhelming margin.

The White House says Trump supports sanctions on the three countries in question and will review the legislation.

Shortly after the launch, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged other countries to take firm action against North Korea, saying any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a unsafe regime. The bill clearly violates the terms of the agreement with Iran whereby the country allowed its nuclear energy program to be strictly limited and monitored in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. That included Russian citizens and U.S. citizens.

Before President Barack Obama left office, he ordered the seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds and expelled 35 of its diplomats in response to alleged election interference, a claim that Moscow has consistently denied. If the bill obtains enough bipartisan support among lawmakers, however, Congress would be able to override a veto.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies later Friday that he would not rule out further steps, adding that Russia's "toolbox" of how to react to the new sanctions "doesn't come down to" cutting the embassy staff and seizing the recreational retreat.