JUDY WOODRUFF: Russia is stepping up pressure on the United States to regain two diplomatic compounds seized in New York and Maryland.
President Obama ordered them seized in December in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Today, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called it highway robbery, and his deputy held a high-level meeting at the State Department.
Nick Schifrin has been following the story, and he joins me now in the studio.
So, Nick, why are the Russians so interested in these two compounds?
NICK SCHIFRIN: What officials on both sides are talking about is bilateral irritants.
So these are the compounds. These are the Russian diplomats who were expelled last year as part of the U.S. response to the Russian hacking, and these are not the major issues. These are not Syria and Ukraine. And the idea is that the fewer issues you talk about, the more likely it is you make at least a little progress.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what are the prospects that they can reach any kind of agreement?
NICK SCHIFRIN: That’s exactly what the Trump administration is trying to find, any kind of agreement.
There are huge headwinds, as you know, politically in this country if you give back those compounds.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Huge.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And so — huge, exactly.
But U.S. officials are worried about retribution. Russia says, look, if there’s no deal today in the near future, three dozen of your diplomats will be expelled and life for your diplomats in Russia will get even worse.
And we have already seen a campaign of intimidation against U.S. diplomats. In Russia in June 2016, we saw a U.S. diplomat outside of the embassy get beaten up. That’s not something the U.S. wants to see there.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, quickly, where do you see this going?
NICK SCHIFRIN: It’s a chicken and egg problem.
The U.S. says, you hacked, we responded. If Russia were to say, no, no, no, we didn’t hack, you kicked our guys out, you seized our compounds for no reason, then we retaliate, the U.S. has to say, oh, well, this is a new retaliation, and yet another response.
There’s no telling where that would end. The U.S. is trying to say, look, the big issues, keep that aside. Maybe we can make some progress and at least, I don’t know, save a bad relationship from getting worse.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Another aspect of the U.S.-Russia relationship.
Nick Schifrin, thank you.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Thanks.