MOSCOW — The Kremlin said Friday it would expel 10 U.S. diplomats and blacklist eight current and former U.S. officials including FBI Director Christopher Wray, Susan Rice and John Bolton in response to U.S. sanctions and expulsions.
The expected tit-for-tat measures by Russia deepen the strains between the two countries, but Moscow kept its response relatively proportional. The Kremlin also signaled willingness to consider a summit between President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden even as tensions grow.
The Foreign Ministry released the list of people banned from entry into Russia including Rice, a former ambassador the United Nations and now head of the Domestic Policy Council, and Bolton, who was dismissed as national security adviser by then-president Donald Trump in 2019.
Others included Attorney General Merrick Garland, director of U.S. National Intelligence, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Homeland Security chief after earlier U.S. sanctions on Russian officials in similar posts. R. James Woolsey, former CIA director, was also named.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would also stop activities of American organizations and funds that it finds “interfere” in its affairs.
But he said Russia would refrain from imposing “painful measures” against American companies, keeping that option in reserve.
Lavrov said presidential aide Yuri Ushakov called on the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, to return to Washington “for consultations there.” The Foreign Ministry said, given the “extremely tense” situation, both ambassadors should be in their home capitals for consultations.
Russia recalled its ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, from United States last month after Biden agreed in a television interview that Putin was “a killer.” No decision has been made on his return.
“This afternoon, I spoke with Ambassador Ushakov and received an outline of Russian government measures. We are awaiting details,” Sullivan said. “I cannot comment further until we have more information.”
A Russian Foreign Ministry statement Friday evening said it would like to avoid further escalation of tensions with the United States and sought a clam and professional dialogue, but that its wave of sanctions could not go unpunished.
Russia announced its retaliatory steps after Putin chaired a meeting of Russia’s Security Council after the U.S. sanctions and other measures Thursday.
Washington said it would expel 10 Russian diplomats as well as place sanctions on 32 Russia-related individuals and companies accused of interfering in the 2020 presidential election, spreading disinformation and other harmful actions. U.S. officials claim most of the diplomats on the expulsion list are intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover.
Lavrov said Putin had decided on a list of measures to answer “the absolutely hostile and unprovoked actions that Washington has announced with regard to Russia, our citizens, individuals, and legal entities and with regard to our financial system.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin and Biden “saw eye to eye” on the need to de-escalate tensions in U.S.-Russia relations, but “our U.S. counterparts’ liking for sanctions remains unacceptable.”
“President Putin talked about the feasibility of building, normalizing and de-escalating our relations,” Peskov said. “He talks about it consistently. He is convinced of it. He has stated repeatedly that we are ready to develop our dialogue to the extent that our counterparts are ready to do it.”
Washington also banned U.S. financial institutions from buying Russian bonds from Russia’s central bank, Finance Ministry or national wealth fund. The move could deter investment in the bonds and increase Russian borrowing costs. Peskov said Russia’s economy would continue to work efficiently despite the ban.
The Biden administration also sanctioned Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, the SVR, formally accusing it of the sweeping SolarWinds cyberattack, which targeted government agencies and private companies.
SVR head Sergei Naryshkin said Friday the U.S. sanctions eroded global security, as he played up Russia’s view of its role in global stability as what he called one of the world’s two “great powers.”
He called it “an unfriendly step, which, in my opinion, is also ill-considered. We all understand that relations between the two great powers, Russia and the United States, largely determine the level of international stability and security,” he told journalists Friday.
“Obviously,” he added, “this step contributes to the destruction of international stability.”
Russian officials have expressed outrage that the White House announced the sanctions and expulsions two days after Biden spoke to Putin by phone. The Kremlin readout of that call emphasized Biden’s call for a summit in a third country, and his desire to “normalize” relations, without mentioning that he warned the Russian leader that he planned to take measures over Russia’s actions.
Naryshkin called this surprising and “inconsistent.”
He said the presidents’ talk was “very constructive, calm and responsible. Then came a package of sanctions.”
He said the competition between the world’s leading intelligence services “should be fair. The package of U.S. sanctions is a manifestation of unfair competition.”
Biden said Thursday that the sanctions were “proportionate” and that he wanted a stable and predictable relationship with Russia, adding that it was “time to de-escalate.”
Commenting on Biden’s proposal for a meeting between the two leaders in a third country, Peskov said it would “take some time to analyze the proposal.”
Russian state television anchors portrayed Biden as senile, a favorite state propaganda theme.
“Everyone was expecting a speech like Reagan’s about the Evil Empire, with new attacks on Putin, but instead there was some kind of senile bleating,” said Olga Skabeyeva of Russia’s Channel One television. “He talked about de-escalation in the relations with Russia and immediately threatened with new sanctions.”