Democratic senators from Maryland and New York warned the Trump administration Thursday against returning Russian diplomatic compounds seized in retaliation for that country’s interference in last year's presidential election.
In a letter signed by Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland as well as Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, the lawmakers wrote that “the Russian government has done nothing to deserve renewed access to these compounds.”
The letter was sent to Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr. ahead of his meetings with Russian officials next week. It follows a bipartisan letter, sent in June by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, among others, that made similar points.
Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, crafted language in a Russia sanctions bill approved by the Senate in June that would give Congress an opportunity to review any effort to return the properties.
The Obama administration seized a 45-acre site in Queen Anne's County and another property in New York in December in response to Russian interference in the election. Located on the Corsica River, the Maryland property was purchased by the Soviet Union in 1972. Russian officials described it as a recreational site but the Obama administration said it was used to gather intelligence.
It’s not clear the Trump administration is actively planning to return the sites, though the Washington Post reported in June the idea was among several topics U.S. diplomats discussed with their Russian counterparts.
“As you know, the Russian diplomatic compounds were seized based on the harassment, sometimes violent, of U.S. personnel in Russia,” the Democrats wrote in their letter. “Since the seizure of these compounds, we are unaware of any evidence or assessment that the treatment of U.S. personnel in the Russian Federation has markedly improved.”