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Russia Plans To Respond To Its Diplomats Being Expelled Across U.S. And Europe


Just about a week ago, President Trump was being criticized for being too friendly with Moscow after he called President Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his re-election. Trump did not mention the poisoning of the Skripals in that call. But now, like its allies, the Trump administration is standing with Britain. So what is Moscow's response to all of this? We have NPR's Lucian Kim on the line to tell us. Hey, Lucian.


CHANG: So there was some speculation that these expulsions were coming. Did the Kremlin seem surprised at all by this move?

KIM: Well, I do think it was a surprise because this isn't just about the U.S. taking an action but really a united front involving something like 20 countries. On the one hand, the decision has been met with some mockery. State television called it a diplomatic flash mob. And the Russian Embassy in Washington has a Twitter poll asking which U.S. Consulate in Russia should be closed. But, of course, this isn't a laughing matter. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow that Russia regrets the expulsions. And he said they were thinking about an answer and that Putin himself would make the final decision.

CHANG: And is there any idea of how the Kremlin might respond at this point?

KIM: Well, we don't know exactly, of course, but we have a pretty good idea. The Kremlin likes to say it acts reciprocally. But when the British government expelled 23 Russian diplomats, the Kremlin responded in kind. But it also closed the British Council, which is a very popular cultural institution that's been working in Moscow for almost 60 years.

CHANG: Oh, it upped the ante.

KIM: Exactly. So anything could happen. You know, over the summer, Russia responded to U.S. sanctions by cutting U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia by more than 700. And it's basically made it impossible for ordinary Russians to get visas here.

CHANG: Relations between Russia and the West are not particularly great right now. How do you see all of this playing out?

KIM: A Russian senator actually gave an answer to that. He tweeted, after these expulsions, that it looked like the potential for relations worsening still hasn't been exhausted and that that's exactly what the White House is aiming for. What's interesting though, Ailsa, is that there were reports in state media earlier today that the Russian Embassy in Washington had appealed to the White House to use its influence on Britain to stop this whole situation from escalating.

Russia has really been very isolated from the West for the past four years since annexing Crimea. There are a lot of Russians who are interested in doing business and traveling and studying abroad. And they really don't like this development. But for Putin, in many ways, it's convenient because it fits into this narrative that the U.S. and its allies are ganging up on Russia. And this concept of Russia as a besieged fortress is one way for the Kremlin to rally ordinary people around Putin.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Thank you very much.

KIM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLACK KEYS SONG "SO HE WON'T BREAK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucian Kim is NPR's international correspondent based in Moscow. He has been reporting on Europe and the former Soviet Union for the past two decades.