MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday it would restrict the ability of U.S. diplomats based in Moscow to travel if a pending U.S. bill that would do the same to Russian diplomats in the United States entered into force.
The intelligence bill, an annual measure that provides broad Congressional authorization for a wide range of U.S. intelligence activities and agencies, has already been approved by both intelligence committees and the House of Representatives, but not yet by the Senate.
U.S. officials accused Russia of hacking U.S. political institutions, in particular the Democratic Party, during the 2016 presidential election race, and Western intelligence officials say there has been an increase in covert Russian efforts to influence foreign public opinion in recent years.
The Kremlin denies involvement in the U.S. hacking scandal.
The new U.S. bill would create a special committee to combat clandestine Russian efforts to manipulate foreign opinion and tighten the rules on Russian diplomats in the United States who want to travel more than 25 miles (40.23 km) from their official posts.
They would have to give advance notice of such trips and permission would not be granted unless the FBI told Congress in writing that the diplomats had abided by the travel rules in the previous quarter.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Moscow the proposed rules would draw swift Russian retaliation if implemented.
“They (the U.S. authorities) should keep in mind that diplomacy is based on the principle of reciprocity. Put simply, American diplomats in Russia will be treated in the same way,” said Zakharova.
She said the bill looked like an attempt to confine Russian diplomats to their embassy and make their work harder, and called the proposal for a special committee part of a “witch hunt” by the outgoing Obama administration against Russia.
“We are dealing with another example of clinical anti-Russian feeling,” she said. “It’s a carbon copy of a scheme used in the Cold War.”
President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes that President-elect Donald Trump can oversee an improvement in battered U.S.-Russia ties, something the wealthy American tycoon has said he is keen to bring about.
Editing by Richard Lough