Russia Turns Up the Heat on Trump Over Seized Property

  • Russia reserves ‘right to retaliate,’ Foreign Ministry says
  • State Department says ‘more work needs to be done’ after talks

The Takeaways From Trump's Meeting With Putin

Russia stepped up pressure on the U.S. to return seized diplomatic compounds after talks ended without a deal, in a dispute that’s become a test of whether Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin can convert the personal rapport of their initial meeting into improved relations.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it “reserves the right to retaliate based on the principle of reciprocity” in a statement Tuesday, after U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov failed to break the deadlock at the talks in Washington.

The discussions were “tough, forthright and deliberate, reflecting both parties’ commitment to a resolution” on issues that have “strained the relationship,” the State Department said in a statement on its website Tuesday. “It is clear that more work needs to be done.”

Russia’s made increasingly strident demands for the issue to be resolved since it was discussed at Trump and Putin’s first official meeting, which stretched for more than two hours at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg this month. It’s threatening to retaliate by seizing U.S. embassy property in Moscow and expelling diplomats. The confrontation is putting Trump in a bind as he seeks to strengthen relations with Putin while also battling investigations in Washington into whether members of his campaign team colluded with Russia during last year’s presidential elections.

‘Retaliatory Steps’

“The longer the Americans persist, the less chance there’ll be of finding a solution that won’t also infringe on their interests,” Ryabkov said Tuesday, according to the RIA Novosti news service. He said he’d warned Shannon at Monday’s talks that Russia may take “practical retaliatory steps” soon.

The country houses outside New York and Washington were taken “absolutely in breach of international law” and must be returned without conditions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Monday. “We continue to hope that our American colleagues will demonstrate political wisdom and political will,” he said.

The U.S. will commit “daylight robbery” if it doesn’t surrender the properties, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters during a visit to Belarus on Monday. There are “sensible people” in the administration who understand that outgoing President Barack Obama took the action to try to spoil prospects for Trump to improve relations with Russia, he said.

Putin broke with tradition and refrained from retaliating when Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shut down the two compounds in December in response to the election hacking that U.S. intelligence agencies blamed on Russia. Trump hailed Putin’s decision at the time on Twitter as a “great move” and said “I always knew he was very smart!”

However, nearly six months after Trump took office pledging to repair ties that all but collapsed under Obama, Russia’s patience is running out over his failure to reverse the measures.

‘Severe Crisis’

The dispute shows there’s “a severe crisis in relations” between Russia and the Trump administration, according to Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council, an advisory body to the Kremlin. “An absolutely small thing has become fundamental for both sides” and may create a spiral of tit-for-tat responses, he said.

While Putin’s been patient until now, measures planned against the U.S. are “so harsh that they will really feel it” if the Washington talks fail, Russian state TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov said on his flagship Sunday program. U.S. embassy officials will be expelled and “for those diplomats and families left behind, conditions will worsen to such an extent that they’ll be able to ask the State Department for bonuses” for working in Russia, he said.

The Trump administration may return the country houses to Russia because “we want to give collaboration, cooperation a chance,” in order to secure progress on issues such as resolving the war in Syria, Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president, told CNN on Thursday.

Russia canceled a previous meeting between Ryabkov and Shannon in St. Petersburg last month after the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russian companies and individuals over the conflict in Ukraine. Monday’s talks offered a chance to “deal with some of these so-called irritants” in relations, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters last week.

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