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Russian lawmakers see Trump's gratitude to Putin as a front to his displeasure

If the U.S. diplomatic community reacted in shock yesterday when President Trump said he would thank Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering the U.S. to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755, Russian lawmakers said they were calling the U.S. president’s bluff.

"The reaction of U.S. President Donald Trump to the expulsion of American diplomats from Russia is, of course, a kind of a ‘good face in a bad game,’” said Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the Committee on International Affairs in the Russian parliament.

Putin last month announced that the U.S. diplomatic mission to Russia must be cut to 455, the same number of staff in Russia’s embassies and consulates in the U.S. Moscow also seized two diplomatic properties in Moscow used by the U.S. embassy.  The move was seen as retaliation for former President Barack Obama’s decision to expel 35 Russian intelligence officers and retake two houses used by the Russian embassy in Maryland and New York.

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters in New Jersey on Thursday.

Without a doubt, the tit for tat between Moscow and Washington over diplomatic staff and embassy properties is a sensitive issue for the new administration, Slutsky said.

“I would even say that Trump's sarcastic comment that thanked the president of the Russian Federation only confirms this,” the Russian lawmaker added.

Another lawmaker suggested that Trump was showing a bit of a sense of humor toward Congress and Russophobic sentiment in the United States.

“Trump's statement is pure sarcasm and trolling of the anti-Russian circles in the United States, a hint at the consequences of the Congress sanctions,” Alexei Pushkov, a Russian senator,  wrote on Twitter. “And the State Department does not have a sense of humor.”

Meanwhile, the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant quoted its diplomatic sources as saying that Russia should brace for the U.S. to retaliate again by demanding that the Kremlin close one of its consulates in the United States. Russia has one embassy in Washington and four consulates in New York, Houston, Seattle and San Francisco. The United States has an embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

The U.S. embassy has not released the exact number of its mission to Russia, but they are believed to be close to 1,279 across the four diplomatic compounds. Many of those on staff are Russians employed as support staff to the mission, including drivers, caterers and administrative staff.

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