Russia's foreign ministry proposes expelling 35 US diplomats after Barack Obama expels 35 Russian diplomats

Dispute over alleged interference in US election worsens as Russia retaliates to fresh sanctions

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The Independent Online

Russia's foreign minister has called on Vladimir Putin to expel 35 American diplomats in retaliation against new US sanctions over alleged interference in the presidential election.

Sergei Lavrov proposed the President expels 31 staff members from the US Embassy in Moscow and four more from the consulate in St Petersburg.

“We, of course, cannot leave these tricks unanswered,” he said.“Reciprocity is the law of diplomacy and foreign relations.”

Barack Obama: US will act on election hacking by Russia

Barack Obama gave 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” 72 hours to leave the country with their families on Thursday.

The President also announced the closure of two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York and sanctions against Russian intelligence agencies and supporting companies.

The moves were a response to Russia's alleged interference in the US elections. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in cyber attacks believed to have benefited Donald Trump, with Mr Lavrov calling the allegations “groundless" on Friday.

He said the Obama administration was "accusing Russia all mortal sins, trying to blame us for the failure of its foreign policy initiatives".

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Mr Obama said, claiming the extent of data theft and cyber attacks uncovered “could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government”.

In addition to expelling the 35 intelligence operatives, the President announced sanctions against Russia’s FSB and GRU intelligence agencies, four GRU officers and three companies supporting its cyber operations.

Two other Russians have been blacklisted by the Treasury for “using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information” and the State Department is shutting down two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York.

Mr Obama said the actions were a response to “the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of US officials and cyber operations aimed at the US election” and followed repeated public and private warnings to the Kremlin. 

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” he added. 

“We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicised.”

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister, said Mr Obama was ending his term in the grip of “anti-Russia agony”.

“It is regrettable that the Obama administration, which started out by restoring our ties, is ending its term in an anti-Russia agony. RIP,” he said in a statement.

Mr Putin’s spokesman accused the outgoing US administration of harming Russian-American ties and dealing a “blow on the foreign policy plans of the incoming administration of the President-elect”.

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There has been speculation that Donald Trump will seek to reverse Mr Obama's executive orders (Sean Gallup/Getty)

Mr Obama imposed the sanctions on Russian officials and intelligence services in retaliation for Russia's alleged hacking of American political sites and email accounts ahead of the November election. 

US intelligence agencies believe that Moscow was behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails that were then passed to Wikileaks.

Though the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued a joint report on “Russian malicious cyber activity” with examples of malware code used by the Russians, it still has not released a broader report promised by the President. 

Mr Trump has repeatedly dismissed allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that the Kremlin was behind the cyber attacks and said he would soon be meeting with security officials.

During the election campaign, he vowed to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama” on his first day in office, without saying who would determine their constitutionality. 

A senior official admitted the President-elect could reverse the expulsions once he takes office on 20 January and allow the Russian intelligence officials back into the US.

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