MOSCOW - Russia announced late Friday it will expel 10 U.S. diplomats from Moscow in a tit-for-tat response to Washington's decision to send 10 Russian diplomats packing under a wide-ranging U.S. sanctions package levied against Moscow earlier this week.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced the retaliatory moves during a press conference with his Serbian counterpart in Moscow.
"Ten diplomats were included in the list that was sent to us with a request that they leave," said Lavrov in announcing the expulsions. "We will respond to this measure in kind."
In statements to its official website, Russia's Foreign Ministry laid out additional measures, including barring eight high-ranking U.S. officials — among them Attorney General Merrick Garland, Biden's chief Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, and FBI Director Christopher Wray — from travel to Russia.
A separate statement said Russia would close out a joint agreement allowing U.S. diplomats to freely travel through the country, end the U.S. Embassy's ability to hire Russian nationals as support staff, sharply limit-short term visas for U.S. diplomatic work trips, and close out remaining operations of American-affiliated NGOs and foundation work.
The announcement also said the ministry "suggested" U.S. ambassador John Sullivan return to Washington for "detailed and serious" consultations regarding the U.S.-Russian relationship — a move that would mirror actions taken by Russia's Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov when he returned to Moscow last month amid growing tensions.
"Now is the time for the United States to demonstrate good sense and to turn its back on a confrontational course," read the Foreign Ministry's statement. "Otherwise, an array of painful decisions for the American side will be implemented."
On the whole, the moves reflect Russian anger at a raft of penalties announced by the White House earlier this week — part of what U.S. President Joe Biden called a "measured and appropriate" response to malign Russian behavior including cyberattacks, election interference, and military actions aimed at neighboring Ukraine.
At the same time, the Biden administration softened earlier claims that Russia financed bounties on U.S. soldiers operating in Afghanistan — saying U.S. intelligence only had "low to moderate" faith in their sources.
Moscow has long denied the U.S. accusations as unproven and irresponsible.
The U.S. measures — which included restrictions on Russia's ability to finance its sovereign debt — are widely viewed by observers in Moscow as a calibrated warning from the new Biden administration.
Russia, in turn, has long argued it merely reacts to hostile acts by Washington in kind — and, at first glance, the Russian response seemed intended to match but not further escalate the confrontation for now.
Less clear is what effect the diplomatic fallout will have on a U.S.-proposed summit between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Biden suggested during a phone call with Putin earlier this week that the two leaders meet in a neutral third country.
Following the sanctions announcement, he also suggested the two sides seek to deescalate tensions.
"The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia," Biden said. "We want a stable, predictable relationship."
On Friday, the Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov signaled that Russia was weighing its options but had not yet ruled out a meeting.
Putin "has repeatedly said we're ready to develop dialogue as much as our counterparts are ready to do so," said Peskov in comments to journalists.
"In this sense it is probably positive that the views of the two heads of state coincide," he added.