The U.S. government will respond by the end of this month to the Russian government’s decision to reduce the number of American diplomatic staff in Russia by more than 700, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday morning, according to an Associated Press report.
Tillerson’s promise of a U.S. response followed his Sunday meeting in the Philippines with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, where the secretary of state said he asked his Russian counterpart “several clarifying questions.” The U.S. has yet to decide on what retaliatory steps it would take, Tillerson said, only that those steps would be taken by Sept. 1.
Russia’s move to order a 755-person reduction of U.S. embassy and consulate staff was itself a retaliatory step, retribution for sanctions legislation passed last month by Congress that targets the Russian government, along with the governments of Iran and North Korea. President Donald Trump, accused by critics of being too cozy with Russia, signed the bill last week despite what he described in a signing statement as the bill’s Constitutional flaws.
Tillerson also told reporters that the Russian delegation had shown “some willingness” during their Sunday meeting to begin discussions on ending the ongoing violence in Eastern Ukraine, where Russia’s military has been active since a 2014 revolution that removed pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.
The secretary of state said the U.S. has been purposefully deliberate in its negotiations regarding Ukraine, ensuring that no party feels cut out of the process.
Deep differences between the U.S. and Russia remain, Tillerson said, although he added that the two nations still have important security issues to discuss. Russia and the U.S. should not "just cut everything off on one single issue” like Ukraine, Tillerson said.