(CNSNews.com) – The State Department on Tuesday played down Russian warnings of retaliation if the U.S. does not return two recreational compounds seized by the Obama administration late last year in response to alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election.
“I don’t mean to be cute in saying this, but we’re used to certain officials from the Russian government making a lot of comments,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing when asked about the Russian remarks.
“So I’m not going to comment on any – or speculate on any specific Russian actions, any specific Russian threats,” she added. “It’s a hypothetical at this point.”
Earlier Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov raised the issue during a press appearance in Brussels.
Speaking through a translator, he said that Moscow was closely following the situation regarding the dachas, the two Russian-owned diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland.
“We’re still hopeful that the U.S., as a proponent of the rule of law, will finally respect the international obligations,” Lavrov said.
“If this is not the case, if Washington decides not to solve this issue, we shall have to take counter actions,” he continued, citing rules of diplomacy and reciprocity.
Asked directly whether Russia would expel U.S. diplomats and seize U.S. diplomatic property in response, Lavrov declined to comment, referring the questioner back to his previous answer. A Russian newspaper earlier cited foreign ministry sources as saying Moscow may take those steps.
In late December the outgoing administration seized the two properties and declared 35 Russian diplomats persona non grata.
Retaliatory measures were anticipated at the time, but President Vladimir Putin chose to wait, saying that Russia would not join a “catfight” in response to the “unfriendly actions of the outgoing U.S. administration.”
Since then, however, Moscow has begun to express impatience. The State Department has announced that Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon will hold talks on “so-called irritants” in Washington next Monday with his Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
Nauert said Wednesday that Shannon was “looking forward to sitting down with his counterpart, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
The State Department spokeswoman also took a friendly dig at a Russian reporter who raised the issue of the dachas.
“I know you must be so excited to talk about that,” she said. “It’s summertime – you want your place back on the eastern shore of Maryland and in New York. It’s hot here in D.C.!”
“To be completely honest with you,” the reporter replied, “I don’t want to touch that at all, but I have to.”