Russia Demands U.S. Return Diplomat Compounds before Talks

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The Kremlin on Monday said Washington must unconditionally restore its access to diplomatic compounds in the United States ahead of high-level talks on the issue.

Russia is angry that Washington is still barring its diplomats from using two compounds in the states of New York and Maryland after then president Barack Obama in December ordered the ban on access in response to suspected Russian meddling in the U.S. election. 

"We consider it absolutely unacceptable to place conditions on the return of diplomatic property, we consider that it must be returned without any conditions and talking," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

He spoke as Thomas Shannon, the U.S. State Department's third-in-command, was set to host Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov in Washington later Monday.

Diplomats quoted by Russian news agencies said the issue of the residential complexes would be on their agenda.

The talks between Shannon and Ryabkov were earlier scheduled for June but Russia canceled them, citing new U.S. sanctions linked to the conflict in Ukraine.

When President Vladimir Putin and U.S. counterpart Donald Trump met for the first time at the G20 summit in Hamburg this month, the Kremlin strongman raised the question "quite unambiguously," Peskov said.

He added that "we still hope our American colleagues will show political wisdom and political will."

Obama announced the U.S. was shutting down residential complexes in December at the same time as he expelled 35 Russian diplomats for spying.

He said the measures were in response to U.S. intelligence reports of Russian hacking and an alleged influence campaign to sway the U.S. presidential election in Trump's favor, describing the compounds as used by Moscow for "intelligence-related purposes."

At the time Putin held off from retaliating, saying he would wait to see how Trump reacted after he came into the White House. 

But hope that Trump will soon follow up on campaign pledges to boost relations have fizzled as any ties to Moscow have become toxic for the White House amid a maelstrom of U.S. investigations into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. 

Now Russia has decided to ratchet up threats that it could belatedly take revenge by blocking a country house and a storage facility used by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week: "If Washington decides not to solve this issue, we will have to take counter actions."

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova complained last week that the U.S. was also refusing to issue visas for Russian diplomats to replace those expelled.