Putin Says 755 U.S. Diplomats Must Leave, Let’s Break Down the Numbers

Posted: 12:20 pm PT
Updated 5:22 pm PT with AP news
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Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued the following statement:

Despite Washington’s constant outbursts, we have adhered to responsible and reserved behaviour and have not responded to express provocations until now. However, the latest events confirm that certain circles in the US are fixated on Russophobia and open confrontation with our country.

– Therefore, we suggest our American counterparts bringing the number of diplomatic and technical staff at the US Embassy in Moscow, the consulates general in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, into strict correspondence with the number of Russian diplomats and technical staff currently working in the United States, until September 1, 2017. This means that the total number of American diplomatic and consular office employees in the Russian Federation must be reduced to 455 people. In the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.

– Starting August 1, the use of all the storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow and the country house in Serebryany Bor will be suspended from use by the US Embassy.

Russia reserves the right to resort to other measures affecting US’ interests on a basis of reciprocity.

Today, according to AFP, President Putin announced that 755 diplomats must leave Russia. Also a report here by Reuters. Let’s look at the numbers.

In 2007, the US Mission in Russia had a total staff of 1,878 (includes over 1300 local employees).

In October 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) ceased operations at the insistence of the Russian Government. USAID Russia had 99 employees including over 80 employees affected by the closure.

In 2013, US Mission Russia (embassy and consulates general) employed 1,279 staff. This included 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed (LE) staff positions from 35 U.S. Government agencies. The State Department typically do not have huge swings in staffing at overseas posts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan excepted), so these are probably close to the current numbers. We don’t have a count on the accompanying family members who are also on diplomatic visas.

In addition to the embassy, US Mission Russia includes consulates general in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok. (When did we close the consular agency in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk?)

The only way the reported numbers make sense is if President Putin is actually talking about the entire mission staff and not just American diplomats. If we go by the 2013 numbers of 1,279 total staff, and only 455 can remain per MFA Russia announcement, that leaves us with 824. That’s close to the 755 number attributed to Putin (69 difference can be attributed to changes in staffing patterns between 2013-2017). But that means, a reduction of all staff, including the local employees.

The July 28 statement from the Russian MFA also says that in “the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.”

In 1986, the then Soviet Union barred all Soviet employes from working for the U.S. Embassy or U.S. diplomats, in response to the expulsion from the United States of 55 Soviet diplomats.  We’re not there yet, but this can always get worse.

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