The White House on Thursday touted the closure of three Russian facilities in the U.S. as "a firm and measured" rebuke of President Vladimir Putin's retaliatory sanctions against the United States.
"We want to halt the downward spiral and we want to move forward towards better relations," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Thursday. "We'll look for opportunities to do that, but we also want to have equity in the decisions."
That endorsement of the decision is a far cry from the rapprochement with Russia that Trump has long favored. Sanders reiterated the State Department's call for an end to the feuding, but her comments contained a hint of Trump's "America first" platform, despite foreign policy experts who worry that such policies might weaken traditional alliances and aggrandize Russian interests.
"We're going to look for opportunities to [improve relations], but we're also going to make sure that we make decisions that are best for our country," Sanders said.
Russia must close the three facilities — one in San Francisco, the others in New York and Washington, D.C., — by Sept. 2. That order was issued as a response to Putin's demand that the United States slash their personnel in Russia to 455 people, requiring over 700 Americans or Russian employees of the U.S. government to stop working in the country.
"With this action, both countries will remain with three consulates each," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. "While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral of our relationship."
Putin imposed the cap on U.S. personnel after Congress passed a broad sanctions package targeting Russia. The legislation was designed to punish Russia's interference in the 2016 elections, as well as their invasion of Ukraine and military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Although triggered by the new sanctions law, the Russian retaliation was tailored more as a response to then-President Barack Obama's moves to crack down on Putin's interference in the 2016 elections. Obama ordered the seizure of two Russian facilities in the United States and expelled 35 Russian officials from the country.
Putin's team responded to Thursday's announcement by vowing to extend the tit-for-tat. "We regret the unconstructive stance taken by our counterparts in the United States and, of course, we cannot afford to leave unfriendly, and sometimes hostile steps towards us without retaliation," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to state-run media.