U.S. Democratic and Republican senators urged President Joe Biden on Thursday to expel 300 Russian diplomats from the United States, while NATO remove ten undeclared spies.
The suggestion from the leaders of the Senate foreign relations and intelligence committees – Democrats Bob Menendez and Mark Warner and Republicans Jim Risch and Marco Rubio – would mark a sharp escalation in an ongoing dispute over embassy staffing amid tension between Washington and Moscow.
Russia in August banned the U.S. embassy in Moscow from retaining, hiring or contracting Russian or third-country staff, except for guards, forcing the mission to let go 182 employees and dozens of contractors, the State Department said.
That meant there are only about 100 U.S. diplomats in Russia, compared with 400 Russian diplomats across the United States, the senators said.
This disproportionality in diplomatic representation is unacceptable. Accordingly, Russia must issue enough visas to approach parity between the number of American diplomats serving in Russia and the number of Russian diplomats serving in the United States, the senators wrote in a letter to Biden.
If Moscow does not do so, they said Biden should begin expelling as many as 300 Russian diplomats.
NATO Acted on Intelligence
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the organization withdrew the accreditation of eight Russian officials to the military alliance in response to a rise in “malign activities” by Moscow.
The eight officials are to be deprived of access to NATO’s Brussels headquarters from the end of the month because it believes they have been secretly working as intelligence officers. NATO also reduced the number of positions that Russia can accredit people for from 20 down to 10.
Mr. Stoltenberg said that the decision to withdraw the accreditation of the eight “was done based on intelligence, was done because these are undeclared Russian intelligence officers.” He said NATO must act when Russian delegation members “conduct activities which not in line with their accreditation.”