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US senators urge Biden to expel 300 Russian diplomats amid visa spat

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Russian and US state flags fly near a factory in Vsevolozhsk, in Leningrad Region, Russia, on March 27, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

A group of Democratic and Republican senators in the US have called on President Joe Biden to expel up to 300 Russian diplomats, in a move that is expected to escalate an ongoing dispute between Washington and Moscow over embassy staffing.

Under a decree that was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year, Moscow was authorized to restrict or ban employment contracts with "state bodies and state institutions of foreign states committing unfriendly acts against the Russian Federation."

The US mission in Moscow, as a result, dismissed 182 employees and dozens of contractors.

"This disproportionality in diplomatic representation is unacceptable," the senators wrote in the letter. Currently there are about 100 US diplomats in Russia, compared with 400 Russian diplomats across the United States, they said.

"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," they said.

"If such action is not taken," they said, Washington should "begin expelling Russian diplomats, to bring the US diplomatic presence to parity."

They claimed that the dismissal of local staff in Russia had hindered the embassy's ability to handle US consular needs as well as its policy interests.

Russia in April also ordered 10 American diplomats to leave the country after the United States expelled Russian diplomats. At the time, relations between the two world powers had deteriorated because Biden had said he believed Putin is a "killer."

Moscow also recalled its ambassador from Washington back then.

Putin and Biden met for the first time at a summit in May, but the meeting did not seem to bring about a thaw in relations between the Cold War foes.

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