Russia - US diplomatic clinch: where is way out?

Russia - US diplomatic clinch: where is way out?

Washington expressed its regret over Moscow's decision to cut the US diplomatic presence in Russia,  a representative of the Department of State said.

"The Russian government has demanded the U.S. Mission to Russia limit total Mission staffing to 455 employees by September 1. This is a regrettable and uncalled for act. We are assessing the impact of such a limitation and how we will respond to it.  We have no further comment at this time,” RIA Novosti cited the representative of the Department of State as saying.

“We have expressed our strong disappointment and protest,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said earlier.  The US.protests came during US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a meeting US Ambassador John Tefft held in Moscow with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

On July 28, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement suggesting that the United States would have to cut its diplomatic and technical staff by 755 people by September 1.

The move came as a response to the 2016 decision of then-US President Barack Obama's administration to impose a number of sanctions on Russia including expelling 35 diplomats and closing two Russian diplomatic compounds.

A senior research fellow at the European Research Centre of the International Relations Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Olenchenko, speaking with a correspondent of Vestnik Kavkaza, in the first place drew attention to the differences in the work of the Russian and US embassies.

"The backbone of any embassy is diplomatic employees. The diplomatic staff carries out political and diplomatic activities, and is supported by the administrative staff responsible for document preparation and document circulation. The technical staff provides the activities of the embassy. It includes the head of the economy, as well as drivers, gardeners, etc. The US has few diplomatic employees, but its administrative and technical component are overstaffed, while Russia focuses on the diplomatic staff. With regard to the reduction announced by our president, it will affect the diplomatic staff to a lesser extent," the expert explained.

At the same time, he stressed that it is still unclear what response measures Washington will take. "Either they will suggest cutting down the number of Russia's employees in the US, or they will come up with some measures to limit their activities and contacts. Americans seem to find it difficult to stop, because they were the initiators of these cutbacks. Their statements can be interpreted in two ways: on the one hand, it can be an announcement to the public, and, on the other hand, they could really take some action," the senior research fellow at the European Research Centre of the International Relations Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences said.

In addition, he pointed out that the reduction of the embassy staff is certainly an essential tool of diplomatic pressure. "The diplomatic composition of the embassy is divided into groups that maintain contact with US authorities and political forces. That is, when you limit the number of employees, you thereby restrict the contacts of the embassy. Therefore, Russia is always very conscious of the issue of the presence of embassy representatives in countries, because it gives the opportunity to receive more complete information. If the number of diplomats decreases, accordingly, the volume decreases, and it somehow affects bilateral relations," Vladimir Olenchenko said.

"It's important for Americans to find the strength and courage to stop it. Unfortunately, they want to show that they are stronger. I hope that their statement about the respond will remain just a statement. At this stage, the US position will depend on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. If he says that they need to stop, his opinion will be taken into account," the senior research fellow at the European Research Centre of the International Relations Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences concluded.

Director of Georgetown University's Center for Eurasian, Russian and Eastern European Studies, Angela Stent, believes that the U.S. sanctions bill, designed to hurt Russia, may have unintended consequences for the United States. "As currently written, it will not only continue to penalize Russia but will also penalize American and European businesses because of its restrictions on energy projects that involve Russian companies," she writes in her article for the National Interest, noting that the bill seeks to prevent the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. "Germany supports the pipeline as the most cost-effective way to meet future gas demand, Stent stressed. 

"Some EU officials have warned that the EU may rethink its own sanctions regime - carefully designed with the Obama administration - if the United States moves forward with the bill," the professor recalled. "This, of course, would be good news for the Kremlin," she noted.

According to her, Russia's latest actions may herald the beginning of a new series of sanctions and counter-sanctions by both sides. "Russia and America may still be able to work together in Syria, but that may be one of the few remaining areas of cooperation," the Director of Georgetown University's Center for Eurasian, Russian and Eastern European Studies concludes.

A senior analyst of 'Uralsib Capital', Alexei Kokin, speaking about the possible consequences of sanctions for the implementation of the Nord Stream-2 project, noted that it is not yet clear how these restrictive measures will be applied. "There is a risk that sanctions can be imposed at any moment. This possibility forces contractors and potential shareholders to think several times before joining the project. It is a big problem in terms of risks and uncertainties," the expert explained.

At the same time, he emphasized that the new US sanctions may provide benefits to exporters of liquefied gas. "Almost no one can compete with Russian gas in Europe now. Except for new volumes of liquefied gas, which will be delivered to Europe from Qatar, but in fact it will be possible due to exports of liquefied gas from the United States, as well as from Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. Naturally, if the US imposes sanctions to reduce gas volumes from Russia, it creates an opportunity for American LNG to enter the market," the analyst believes.

In addition, he shared his opinion about whether it is profitable for Europeans to buy gas from Americans. "For example, it is beneficial to those countries that are infrastructure-oriented towards LNG: Italy, Spain, partly France, the Netherlands and the UK. But for the countries of central Europe, like Germany, Russian gas is cheaper. Also it will be more profitable to buy gas from the United States if oil prices start to increase. But in the short term, LNG will not be competitive," Alexei Kokin concluded.


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