How U.S. and Russian Relations Got So Bad: A Timeline From 2014 to Present

The primary reasons behind Russia’s meddling in last year’s election, allegedly to boost Donald Trump’s chances of victory, have long been thought to be efforts to improve relations between the two superpowers and to remove sanctions that have hurt the Russian economy.

Now, even with Trump as president, those sanctions are still firmly in place and diplomatic relations may have worsened. The latest example of the latter came Thursday, when the State Department ordered three Russian diplomatic facilities—in San Francisco, Washington and New York—to close by September 2.

One reason relations only may have worsened is that the State Department said in a press release that the new Russian closures, along with the U.S.’s compliance with Putin’s demand to pull 455 diplomatic employees out of Russia and the decision to allow Russia to maintain some annexes around the U.S., are steps “to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship.”

Still, that perhaps dark concession about the state of affairs between the two nuclear superpowers is far from the first significant hiccup or exchange of strong diplomatic language and maneuvers. The timeline below focuses on key points over the last several years in the U.S. and Russia’s often-tense relations.

March 2014 Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula Crimea, previously part of Ukraine, and the U.S. and the European Union put in place the sanctions that would lead to the current back and forth. President Barack Obama informed President Vladimir Putin that the sanctions were a direct response to Russia’s “violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The sanctions involved visa restrictions on Russians and Ukrainians and include threats of asset seizures and business bans.

Other sanctions followed from the Treasury Department throughout 2014, targeting the Russian financial services, energy and defense sectors, among other areas.

September 2014 The EU’s sanctions later in 2014 also focused on Russia’s finances and arms sales, with Russian state banks no longer allowed to attain long-term loans in the EU. Russia’s state-backed oil industry was also hit, with three companies (Rosneft,Transneft and Gazprom Neft) and their potentially lucrative oil technology being banned from exporting to the EU.

Over the subsequent two years, there would be a lot of jostling over the sanctions within the EU, but they largely stayed in place.

December 2016 Then came Obama’s decision to add sanctions over Russia’s alleged role in meddling in the U.S. presidential election last year.

Those sanctions included the closing of two Russian estates, in New York and Maryland, which the Obama administration said were used for intelligence activities. Thirty-five Russians who were suspected of being spies were kicked out of the U.S., and Russia’s military intelligence arm, the G.R.U., and four of its high-ranking officers were also subject to sanctions, as were five other Russian entities.

These moves came after Trump had often said while campaigning that he hoped to improve relations with Russia.

April 2017 As media reports about the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia swirled, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the first top administration official to meet with Russia. After a day’s worth of meetings with Putin and his diplomatic counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, he said relations between the two countries were “at a low point,” and that there was a “low level of trust.”

June 2017 About a month before its Russia sanctions were due to expire, the EU extended them, until June 2018. Earlier in the month, Tillerson said Trump told him to rebuild relations despite the numerous investigations into his campaign’s ties alleged ties to Russia.

July 2017 Late in the month, after Putin and Trump met for the first time at the G-20 summit in Germany, a new sanctions bill overwhelmingly passed through both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to punish Russia for hacking the election.

In response, Putin ordered 755 U.S. diplomatic staff members to leave Russia, citing “illegal restrictions”—but likely because of the sanctions. The State Department later said that Putin’s order would affect 455 staff members by September 1.

August 2017 The U.S. issues a response, saying Russia’s San Francisco annex, the oldest and most established in the country, can no longer be used. The State Department did say during a conference call with reporters Thursday that it had not taken the step of ordering diplomatic staff out of the country.

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