Russia Lashes Out Anew at US over Seized Diplomatic Compounds

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov (R) are seen here meeting with journalists after president Putin's annual Question and Answer live-broadcast nationwide television and radio session called 'Direct Line with Vladimir Putin' at the Gostiny Dvor studio in Moscow, Russia, 15 June 2017. Photo: Yuri Kochetkov/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Moscow has sent a fresh batch of criticism towards Washington over the seizure of Russian diplomatic compounds in December over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US elections.
  • Putin’s spokesman Peskov has urged the US to “show political wisdom”, and return the compounds to Russia without preconditions.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has called the properties’ seizure “a robbery in broad daylight”.
  • Delayed meeting between a US Assistant Secretary of State and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister is not expected to bring immediate results on the issue, according to Peskov.

Top Russian officials have lambasted the US once again for the seizure of two Russian compounds on US soil, a measure taken at the end of the Obama Administration over the intelligence information that Moscow tried to meddle in the 2016 US elections.

Last week, Russia’s Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov said Moscow was considering retaliatory measures against the United States over the seizure of two of its diplomatic facilities on American soil, which were shuttered at the end of Barack Obama’s Administration.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova followed suit by declaring that there were “too many” CIA and US military intelligence agents in the American Embassy in Moscow, and that Russia might trim the number of US diplomatic staff there.

In early June, the US government denied reports it had reached an agreement with Russia to return to it the two diplomatic compounds in question — one in Maryland and one in New York – to Russia.

At the end of December 2016, after receiving intelligence information that Russian President Vladimir Putin meddled in the US elections through hacking attacks, then US President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Russia’s intelligence apparatus.

Those sanctions were in addition to sanctions imposed on Moscow by the US, the EU, and other Western governments since 2014 over Russia’s encroachments against Ukraine, namely, the Crimea annexation and the war in Donbass.

Among other things, they included shutting down two compounds, one in Maryland and one in New York, “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes”, and declaring 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” persona non grata.

As a result, the US authorities barred Russian access to the two Moscow-owned “recreational compounds.”

The 45-acre property at Pioneer Point near Centreville, Maryland, was purchased by the Soviet Union government in 1972, and the 14-acre property on New York’s Long Island was purchased by the Soviet government in 1954.

In January 2017, the US intelligence community voiced its conclusions that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered hackers to use cybercrime in order to sway the 2016 US vote in favor of Donald Trump, to the detriment of his rival Hillary Clinton.

Also in January, a leaked dossier authored by a former MI6 agent alleged that Moscow had compromising materials on Trump that could be used to blackmail him.

Trump’s positive comments about Russian leader Putin both before and after he assumed office as President of the United States have caused additional concerns.

The FBI, as well as the intelligence committees of both houses of the US Congress, are presently investigating whether Trump’s associates were in contact with Russian officials during the 2016 US presidential elections.

In June, the US introduced new sanctions against Russia over Ukraine and Crimea, a “pointless” move, according to Moscow.

‘Show Political Wisdom’

The Russian Presidency expects Washington to show political wisdom in the issue of returning Russia’s diplomatic property, and to restore them without any preconditions, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov declared on Monday, as cited by state-run news agency TASS.

“We continue to hope that political wisdom and political will will be shown by our American counterparts [in the issue of returning the Russian diplomatic property],” Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

He declined to comment on the Kremlin’s possible response to the results of Monday’s meeting between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon in this respect.

“Let us not get ahead of ourselves. The situation is quite sensitive indeed. It is complicated, to put it bluntly, so some redundant words can only make things worse,” the Kremlin spokesman emphasized.

The Kremlin continues to believe that Russia’s diplomatic property in the US must be returned without any preconditions.

“We believe linking the return of the diplomatic property to some preconditions is totally unacceptable,” Peskov said.

“We believe that it must be returned without any preconditions, without any talks, because what is happening de facto and de jure is a flagrant violation of international law,” he added.

‘Robbery in Broad Daylight’

The report emphasizes that Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to US President Donald Trump, earlier told reporters that the US administration was weighing the return of two Russian compounds in the US and could undertake such steps, if Moscow showed “acts of good faith” with regard to Syria.

Meanwhile, speaking in Minsk, the capital of Russia’s closest ally Belarus, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov used stronger language against Washington over the seizure of the Russian government compounds in New York and Maryland.

Lavrov denounced the closure of Moscow’s diplomatic property in the US as “robbery in broad daylight”.

“It is robbery in broad daylight. It turns out that some tough guys are commenting on this situation,” he told reporters on Monday, touching upon the statements by high-ranking White House officials that the US was not going to give Russia its diplomatic property back “without getting something in return.”

“Decent and well brought-up people do not behave in such way,” Lavrov said.

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