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Tuesday 1st
posted by James Tweedie in World

MOSCOW told Washington to end its foreign policy of “sanctions diktat” yesterday after 755 US embassy staff were sent packing.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Washington must find the “political will to improve relations” between the two powers, further fouled by allegations of Russian efforts to influence 2016’s US presidential election.

Before his election US President Donald Trump voiced his wish for detente with Russia and since has sought collusion over a ceasefire in Syria and wider matters — yet is reported to be intending to sign off tougher sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the claimed election meddling.

To end “the aggravation of political schizophrenia” would require “the desire to normalise these relations and abandoning attempts of sanctions diktat,” Mr Peskov said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the expulsions on Sunday in response to last week’s near-unanimous vote by both houses of the US Congress to slap sanctions on Russia — which will also halt gas exports to the EU.

He confirmed earlier Foreign Ministry statements that the US diplomatic contingent would be reduced to the level of Russia’s staff in the US, numbering 455 since outgoing US president Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in December over claims that Moscow had influenced the defeat of his would-be successor Hillary Clinton.

The US State Department called Mr Putin’s announcement “a regrettable and uncalled-for act.”

Mr Peskov pointed out that the 98 per cent backing of both houses of the US Congress for the sanctions Bill effectively rules out Mr Trump using his power of veto.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress have used the probe into election meddling, along with threats of impeachment, to press Mr Trump to reverse his policy of detente with Moscow.

A ceasefire in Syria between US-backed insurgents and pro-government forces backed by Russia followed the Trump-Putin meeting at the July 7 G20 summit in Hamburg, but Russia and the US remain on opposite sides in other conflicts, including Venezuela, where Mr Putin agreed to ship tens of thousands of tons of wheat to alleviate the economic war directed from Washington.

After a meeting with the presidents of the Baltic Nato members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Estonian capital Tallinn yesterday, hawkish US Vice-President Mike Pence said: “We hope for better days, and better relations with Russia.”

But he also declared the US “stands firmly behind our Article 5 pledge of mutual defence — an attack on one of us is an attack on us all.”