Russian diplomats departed the US on Wednesday after the State Department told them to leave as tensions soar with Moscow over the ongoing threat of an invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian Embassy in the USA posted a video of the emotional departure of diplomats, part of 27 people who were supposed to leave by Jan. 30. It wasn’t clear if all 27 departed in the video, which shows people hugging and boarding a bus while others wave goodbye.
“Today is a very bitter event at our embassy,” Russian Ambassador Antoly Antonov is seen telling a reporter in the video, according to a translation of his comments.
“Our comrades were forced, at the request of the Americans, to leave earlier than the period for which they came here.”
The State Department had said more than 50 diplomats and their families had to leave the US due to expiring visas, but Russia has said the move amounts to expulsion.
“Back in September, we were invited to the State Department and given a list of 55 people,” Antonov said, according to the translation.
“Some of them — 27 people — were supposed to leave and are leaving by Jan. 30, and 28 people are leaving by June 30. The fact that they were being expelled … was not mentioned. But it was said that if these people did not leave, then the next day [after the deadline] they would lose their diplomatic privileges and could be arrested.”
Last month, Russia’s foreign ministry responded by ordering staffers at the US Embassy in Moscow to leave by the end of this month.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries have grown increasingly strained in recent years after Russian interference in US elections and the country’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
Russia has been amassing troops and equipment near the border with Ukraine, a move many believe is a precursor to an invasion. President Joe Biden has pledged economic sanctions from the US and its allies if Russia does invade Ukraine.
The US has sent $200 million worth of military aid to Ukraine and put 8,500 troops on “heightened alert” to assist the NATO Response Force ahead of the possible attack by Russia.