Washington (AFP) – The Kremlin’s decision to expel American diplomats was a “long overdue” retaliation to tough new sanctions passed by Washington, a top Russian official said Sunday, vowing more payback may follow if the US does not change its approach. [restrict]

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” show, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called a sanctions package aimed at penalizing Russia for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election “a completely weird and unacceptable piece of legislation” that was “the last drop.” US sanctions were also imposed in December of last year.

“If the US side decides to move further towards further deterioration we will answer, we will respond in kind. We will mirror this. We will retaliate,” he continued.

Pressed on whether the response would entail economic sanctions on US businesses and goods, he demurred: “We have a very rich toolbox at our disposal. It would be ridiculous on my part to start speculating on what may or may not happen.

“We are not gamblers. We are people who consider things very seriously and very responsibly. But I can assure you that different options are on the table and consideration is being given to all sorts of things, both symmetrical or asymmetrical to use a very popular word in the world of diplomacy.”

Moscow on Friday ordered the US to slash its number of diplomats in Russia and froze two embassy compounds.

The move was seen as a blow to hopes in Russia that Donald Trump’s election might help improve ties that slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War over the Kremlin’s meddling in Ukraine and alleged interference in the US election.

A Russian foreign ministry statement demanded the US cut its diplomatic presence in Russia by September to 455 — the same number Moscow has in the US — in a move sources said could force out hundreds of diplomats.

It also said it was barring the US embassy from using a Moscow summer house and storage facility in the city from August 1.

The punishment closely resembled punitive measures announced by then President Barack Obama in December, when he ordered out 35 Russian diplomats and closed down two embassy summer houses that Washington said were being used by Moscow to spy on the US.

Trump repeatedly insisted during his election campaign that he wanted to improve ties with Russia, sparking hope in the Kremlin for an improvement.

But the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Putin interfered in the US elections to get Trump elected, as well as a number of ongoing investigations into whether his campaign team colluded with Moscow, have made any concessions to Russia politically toxic. [/ restrict]