Russia Will Sue U.S. Over Diplomatic Sanctions, Says Moscow's Top Diplomat

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, accompanied by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, arrives to give his annual press conference in Moscow on January 15. Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

Russia is on the verge of taking the U.S. to court over the latest diplomatic sanctions announced by the State Department, Moscow's foreign minister said Monday.

The two countries have engaged in a series of tit-for-tat moves, slapping restrictions on each other's embassies and diplomatic missions since the U.S. election in 2016. When U.S. intelligence agencies determined that Russia had interfered in the election in late 2016, President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats. As a punitive move, the outgoing administration also seized two Russian diplomatic compounds, in upstate New York and the Maryland countryside.

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Since then, the Kremlin and the White House have continued to impose punitive measures. Last summer, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S. to cut 755 employees from its embassy and consulate. In response, the U.S. ordered the closure of Russia's consulate in San Francisco and told diplomats to vacate two more facilities used by Russia.

Putin announced in September that Moscow will seek legal action over the issue, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday the case file is ready.

"I have not mentioned here the unprecedented incident of the seizure of Russian diplomatic property," he told journalists in his 2017 annual review press conference, state news agency Tass reported. "We are now launching legal proceedings. Preparatory work has already been completed."

The Kremlin has previously made clear that it views the property seizures as "a clear violation of Russia's property rights," and Putin has said that the case will be a test of the efficiency of the "much-praised U.S. judiciary."

At the time, a State Department official, speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, said that Washington felt "confident in the legality" of further consular closures and restrictions ordered last week.

However the case proceeds, if it even goes to court, it is a far cry from the foreign policy Moscow hoped to see from the Trump administration. By Putin's own admission, relations with the U.S. have worsened under the new U.S. president, despite already hitting post-Cold War lows under Obama.

During Donald Trump's campaign, he and Putin defied mainstream political norms in the U.S. and spoke in glowing terms about each other, despite the U.S. intelligence services' conclusion that Russia was behind a hacking of emails from the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton's. Since winning the election, Trump has become mired in allegations about Russian interference, with his own team becoming the subject of a probe into suspected collusion with Moscow.

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One incident revolves around the false testimony of Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, who resigned after admitting he had not been truthful to the FBI about the extent of his contacts with a Russian ambassador. Flynn's ousting in February 2016 came after the leaking of details about his conversations with the ambassador on the eve of Obama's first round of sanctions. What provoked further suspicion was the fact that the Kremlin refused to respond to the Obama sanctions until Trump had a chance to reverse them.

After no attempt to do so and a successful attempt in Congress to curb Trump's attempt to reduce current sanctions on Russia, Putin revealed Russia's response in July.