Russia Orders U.S. Diplomats in Country for Over 3 Years to Leave By January 31

Russian officials said Wednesday that U.S. diplomats who have stayed in the country longer than three years will have to leave by the end of next month.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the Associated Press that the move is a response to a U.S. announcement that 27 Russian diplomats and their families would have to leave by January 30, then an equal amount would need to leave by the following year.

"We see the American demand as an expulsion and will respond in kind," Zakharova said.

According to Russia's RIA news agency, Zakharova said the new rules mentioned that the diplomats leaving the U.S. were banned from working as diplomats for three years.

The U.S. State Department argued that the Russian diplomats have to leave because their visas are expiring. However, the Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, did not believe that, saying Washington officials could have extended the visas, and choosing not to effectively amounted to expulsion.

Antonov also called for the U.S. to remove several mutual restrictions on the Russian diplomats so they could "return to normal practice of diplomatic missions' work."

The U.S. diplomats will have to leave Russia by January 31. Al Jazeera reported that the decision comes just a day before top officials from both countries are scheduled to meet.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov are anticipated to meet Thursday at the Organization for Security and Cooperation on Europe summit in Stockholm.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia would halt its diplomat removal plan if the U.S. did the same.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

U.S. embassy, Moscow
Russia announced all U.S. diplomats who have been in the country for longer than three years would have to leave by January 31, mirroring a similar U.S. decision about Russian diplomats. Above, the historical U.S. Embassy building in Moscow on December 30, 2016. Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

On Wednesday, Ryabkov described Washington's move as an effective "destruction of diplomatic missions."

"They just go head-on, continuing attempts to exert pressure," he said about the U.S. "That language of ultimatums that the Americans also use in other spheres of our relations is unacceptable for us. We will respond in kind."

Russia and the U.S. have exchanged several rounds of diplomats expulsions and took other steps restricting the activities of their respective diplomatic missions over the past years as relations between Moscow and Washington sank to post-Cold War lows over Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, its interference in U.S. elections, its hacking attacks and other irritants.

As part of trading diplomatic blows, Russia banned the U.S. Embassy from hiring local residents. The Embassy said the move forced it to reduce its consular workforce by 75 percent and cut most U.S. citizen services as well as non-immigrant visa processing for non-diplomatic travel.