President Donald Trump today thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for demanding the US Embassy eliminate roughly 755 jobs — Putin’s response to the United States’ newly imposed Russia sanctions.
Trump’s reasoning for thanking Putin: The move would “save a lot of money” by cutting the federal payroll. (This is not entirely the case.)
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters at the Bedminster National Golf Club Thursday. “There’s no real reason for them to go back. I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.”
In late July, Putin ordered the United States reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia by 755 employees by September 1, in direct response to America’s new sanctions bill aimed at punishing Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. This would include US diplomats as well as Russian nationals employed by the US government.
Trump grudgingly signed the sanctions bill into law last week, after Congress passed it with overwhelming bipartisan support, but not without angrily tweeting that Republican lawmakers were to blame for the rocky US relationship with Russia.
The gravity of Putin’s retaliatory move was not lost on most international relations observers. The New York Times called the measure the “harshest such diplomatic move since a similar rupture in 1986, in the waning days of the Soviet Union.”
At the time of Putin’s announcement, Andrew Weiss, the head of research on Russia and Eurasia at the Carnegie Endowment, tweeted that it represented a “Big escalation — and big dilemma for Trump. Will he roll over or retaliate?”
Trump has chosen the former, literally thanking the Russian president for expelling American diplomatic staff and dramatically cutting the US’s diplomatic presence in Russia — on the grounds that it supposedly would cut down the United States’ payroll.
The kicker, as the Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman pointed out on Twitter, is that the United States still has to pay those US diplomats and spies. They will remain on payroll.