Lately, relations between the United States and Russia have seemed to take a page from Hammurabi: an eye for an eye, a consulate for a consulate.
Since December, the two countries have been engaged in an increasingly heated diplomatic tit-for-tat.
Last month, the Kremlin required the United States to trim its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755 people. (Trump initially thanked Putin for that demand, saying, “I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll. There’s no real reason for them to go back. So I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’ll save a lot of money.”) As a result, Russians who want to visit the United States must wait much longer for visas. And now, they can only apply in Moscow.
This week, Trump administration officials ordered Russia to shutter its consulate in San Francisco and offices in Washington and New York. The country has 48 hours to comply. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has threatened a “tough response,” and he suggested the move would further “spoil our relations with the United States.” U.S. officials, for their part, said the decision simply brought “parity” between the two countries, noting that the United States and Russia now maintain the same number of consulates and diplomats in each country.
It all feels very Cold War (in 1986, in fact, the United States and the Soviet Union expelled each other’s diplomats). But the tensions have much more to do with recent events. The United States and Russia are at an impasse over lots of things, including the wars in Ukraine and Syria. Russia has been accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election. As a result, Trump signed a stepped-up sanctions bill earlier, a move that angered the Russians.
Here’s a timeline:
Dec. 29, 2016: President Barack Obama expels dozens of Russian officials and orders two Russian recreational compounds in New York and Maryland to be closed in response to Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and harassment of American diplomats in Russia. The new measures also includes sanctions on Russian intelligence agencies and companies that are believed to have helped the government in its cyber-operations.
Dec. 30, 2016: Surprisingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin chooses not to retaliate against the United States — hoping to wait and see what direction then-President-elect Donald Trump will take.
April 12: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. At a joint news conference, they talk of improving U.S.-Russia relations.
May 10: Trump meets with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. The Washington Post would later report that Trump revealed highly classified information during the meeting.
June 15: A new sanctions bill against Russia is approved by the Senate. The measures include language that would prevent Trump from scaling back sanctions against Moscow without first seeking congressional approval. The bill goes to the House.
July 17: Russia continues to demand the return of its two diplomatic compounds in the United States. Lavrov calls it “robbery in broad daylight.”
July 18: Trump meets Putin for the first time as president during the Group of 20 summit in Germany.
July 27: In a huge blow to warmer relations between the United States and Moscow, the Senate passes the Russia sanctions bill after the House approved it two days prior. The measures target Russia’s defense, intelligence, energy, railways, metals and mining sectors.
July 28: In retaliation to the Russia sanctions bill, the Kremlin says it plans to seize two U.S. properties and orders a significant reduction of the U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia.
July 30: Putin orders the U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia to reduce their staff by 755 people in retaliation to the sanctions.
Aug. 2: Trump reluctantly signs a bill imposing new sanctions on Russia. In a statement, Trump calls the bill “seriously flawed.”
Aug. 21: The U.S. Embassy stops issuing visas to Russians as a diplomatic spat worsens.
Aug. 31: The Trump administration orders three Russian diplomatic facilities in San Francisco, New York and Washington closed following the expulsion of American diplomats from Russia. The State Department said the facilities, which are smaller than the main Russian Embassy in Washington, must shut down on Sept. 2.
Here’s the full timeline of U.S-Russia relations since President Trump was elected.