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Russia orders cut in US diplomats following fresh sanctions

Moscow has ordered a reduction in the number of US diplomats in Russia and will close down an American recreation retreat in response to fresh sanctions from Washington.

This comes after the US senate approved a new package of stiff financial sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, before sending it to President Donald Trump to sign.

The legislation bars Mr Trump from easing or waiving the penalties on Russia unless congress agrees.

The Russian foreign ministry said that in response it has ordered the US embassy in Russia to reduce the number of its diplomats by September 1.

Russia will also close down the embassy's recreational retreat on the outskirts of Moscow as well as warehouse facilities.

The US legislation is aimed at punishing Moscow for interfering in the 2016 presidential election and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria, where the Kremlin has backed President Bashar Assad.

The Russian foreign ministry said the number of US diplomats was being cut to 455.

Relations between Russia and the United States dropped to a post-Cold War low following Russia's annexation of Crimea and interference in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election have dampened hopes for better ties which the Kremlin had pinned on Mr Trump's presidency.

The new package of sanctions aims to hit President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle by targeting alleged corrupt officials, human rights abusers and crucial sectors of the Russian economy, including weapons sales and energy exports.

The bill underwent revisions to address concerns voiced by American oil and natural gas companies that sanctions specific to Russia's energy sector could backfire on them to Moscow's benefit.

Adjustments were made so that the sanctions on Russia's energy sector did not undercut the ability of US allies in Europe to get access to oil and gas resources outside of Russia.

Russia's foreign ministry dismissed the new sanctions as "creating unfair competitive advantages for the US economy".

"This kind of blackmail aimed at restricting the cooperation between Russia and other nations is a threat for many countries and global businesses," the statement said.

Russia's response mirrors moves by outgoing US president Barack Obama last December to expel 35 Russian diplomats and shut down two Russian estates in the US.

Moscow said it would cut the US diplomatic corps even further if the US decides to expel more Russian diplomats.

The Kremlin had previously said that it would not impose any sanctions on the US until Mr Trump signs the bill.

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