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Key developments in tug of war over US-Russia diplomats

FILE - in this Tuesday, April 11, 2017 file photo U.S. and Russian national flags wave on the wind before US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's arrival in Moscow's Vnukovo airport, Russia. Russia on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017 promised a "tough response" after U.S. issued its order to shut the Russian Consulate in San Francisco and offices in Washington and New York and gave Russia 48 hours to comply, intensifying tensions between the two countries. (AP Photo/ Ivan Sekretarev, file)

MOSCOW (AP) — A diplomatic tug of war between Moscow and Washington escalated this week when the United States ordered Russia to shut its San Francisco consulate and close offices in Washington and New York.

The score-settling that started in December is the broadest involving the two countries’ foreign outposts since 1986, when the United States and the Soviet Union expelled dozens of each other’s diplomats.

A brief glance at the reprisals and counter-moves that have gone into the wrangling:

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PUNISHMENT FOR ELECTION MEDDLING

Following allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, President Barack Obama in December ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and the closure of two Russian diplomatic recreational retreats.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denied interfering in the election and strongly protested Obama’s move. Putin refrained from immediate retaliation, hoping Donald Trump would reverse the action once he took over the White House and fulfill his campaign promises to improve U.S.-Russia ties.

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NEW U.S. SANCTIONS

The Kremlin’s hopes for better relations with Washington under Trump have been dashed by the congressional and FBI investigations into links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

The U.S. Congress in July overwhelmingly endorsed a new set of sanctions against Moscow over the alleged election interference and for Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine.

The package of stiff financial restrictions sailed through Congress with veto-proof numbers in July, forcing Trump to grudgingly sign it.

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RUSSIAN CAPS ON U.S. EMBASSY STAFF

Realizing that the approval of the new package of sanctions was inevitable, Putin fired back even before Trump signed the measure.

Russia declared in late July that the number of U.S. embassy and consular personnel would be capped at 455 as of Sept. 1, the number that Russia has in the United States.

The U.S. has complied with the order, which meant cutting 755 of its staff, most of them local hires.

Russia also announced the closure of a U.S. recreational compound and warehouse facilities in Moscow.

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U.S. STRIKES BACK

The United States retaliated Thursday, ordering Russia to shutter its San Francisco consulate and close trade offices at its missions in Washington and New York. It gave Moscow 48 hours to comply.

The State Department warned that the U.S. is ready to take further action “as necessary and as warranted,” but voiced hope that Moscow and Washington could now move toward “improved relations” and “increased cooperation.”

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RUSSIA MULLING RESPONSE

The Kremlin has not yet retaliated. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Moscow needs to analyze the latest U.S. move before responding.

While senior lawmakers in the Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament advocated a strong reciprocal action, Lavrov signaled caution, saying Russia must weigh its response to avoid hurting itself.

He argued that the tit-for-tat is a legacy of Obama’s administration and part of efforts by Trump’s political foes to corner him. Lavrov said Moscow still hopes to improve ties with Washington.

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