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US laments ‘unwanted escalation’ & reserves right to retaliate after Russia’s tit-for-tat response to sanctions

“Our recent actions were proportionate and appropriate to Russia’s harmful activities. Today’s announcement by the Russian government was escalatory and regrettable,” a State Department spokesman said in a statement on Friday evening. “It is not in our interest to get into an escalatory cycle, but we reserve the right to respond to any Russian retaliation against the United States.”

Foggy Bottom was responding to the announcement that Moscow will expel ten US diplomats, restricting the number of short-term visas for State Department staff to 10 per year, and ban the US embassy from hiring citizens of Russia and third countries as administrative staff. 

The “open ground” memorandum of 1992, allowing US diplomats to move freely around Russia, has also been “declared invalid due to systematic violations” by Americans, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

There are also plans to “halt the activities… of American foundations and NGOs controlled by the Department of State and other US government agencies” since the US “shows no intention of scaling back its systematic subversive efforts.”

These measures were a response to President Joe Biden’s executive orders sanctioning 30 Russian individuals and entities for allegedly interfering in the 2020 US presidential election and alleged involvement in the SolarWinds hack – both of which Russia has vehemently denied. Biden also expelled 10 Russian diplomats and banned US companies from trading in Russian sovereign debt.

Russia also chose to respond to Biden’s March 2 decision to sanction several Russian officials accused – with no evidence provided – of involvement in the alleged “poisoning” of opposition blogger Alexey Navalny. On Friday, Moscow banned eight current and former US officials from entering Russia.

The ban applies to FBI Director Christopher Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines,  Director of Federal Bureau of Prisons Michael Carvajal, and President Joe Biden’s domestic policy adviser Susan Rice. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton made the Russian blacklist as well. As did James Woolsey, who ran the CIA between 1993 and 1995 – and recently authored a book ‘Operation Dragon: Inside the Kremlin’s Secret War on America,’ that accused the Soviet Union of assassinating US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963.

The unusual step to publicize the response was taken “in view of the unprecedented complications in Russia-US relations provoked by Washington,” the Foreign Ministry said.

US sanctions and messages from Washington “show that Washington is not willing to listen and does not appreciate the restraint that we have displayed despite the tensions that have been purposefully fuelled” by Washington since the Obama administration, said the Foreign Ministry. 

Russia would “like to avoid further escalation” with the US but can’t do so while Washington says one thing and does another. 

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Friday that Russia could have inflicted “painful measures” on US businesses, but chose not to do so – at this time. 

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