Congressional Russia hawks on both sides of the aisle are pushing to dramatically ramp up the diplomatic war with Russia, following Moscow issuing a blanket ban on the US Embassy's ability to hire local Russian citizens or even third-country staff. The prior Russian move forced the US Embassy in Moscow to lay off about 200 local staff.
It was part of an ongoing diplomatic tit-for-tat, preceded by the Biden administration expelling ten Russian diplomats from American soil last April. And now this latest, reported Tuesday by Axios: "The top-ranking Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees are calling on President Biden to expel 300 Russian diplomats if Moscow does not issue more diplomatic visas to make up for its ban on the U.S. Embassy hiring local Russian staff."
If enacted it would constitute the single largest expulsion of Russian diplomats in history, which would inevitably result in the Kremlin taking its own drastic action against the embassy and US consulates in Russia.
Ironically it comes months after the Putin-Biden June summit in Geneva, which aimed at restoring positive and open communications. But US-Russia relations have only continued to deteriorate since then, particularly as members of Congress have sought to ratchet the pressure campaign, citing Russia's human rights record and the recent crackdown on supporters of jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny.
Axios notes that leading Conressional signatories of a letter to President Biden requesting the expelling of hundreds of Russian officials includes Intelligence chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Foreign Relations chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and ranking member Jim Risch (R-Idaho).
They argue that Russia's practice of deeming local staff as "American diplomats" is a deceptive practice, leading to unacceptable "disproportionality in diplomatic representation".
"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 letter states.
"If such action is not taken, we urge you to begin expelling Russian diplomats, to bring the U.S. diplomatic presence to parity. We believe such a step would be reasonable and reciprocal," it added.