US seizes control of Russian posts in San Fran, DC, NY
WASHINGTONThe United States has seized control of three Russian diplomatic posts in the U.S. after confirming the Russians had complied with the Trump administration’s order to get out within two days, officials said.
As the Kremlin cried foul, accusing Washington of bullying tactics, the U.S. disputed Moscow’s claims that American officials had threatened to “break down the entrance door” to one of the facilities, and that the FBI was “clearing the premises.” Not true, said a senior State Department official, adding that U.S. officials had joined Russian Embassy personnel for walkthroughs of the three buildings.
“These inspections were carried out to secure and protect the facilities and to confirm the Russian government had vacated the premises,” the official said in a statement emailed on Sept. 2 to reporters by the State Department on condition the official not be named.
Russia has been incensed by the move to shutter Russia’s consulate in San Francisco and trade offices in Washington and New York, actions the U.S. took in retaliation for Moscow’s decision last month to force the U.S. to cut its diplomatic personnel in Russia to 455. Moscow has accused the U.S. of violating international law by shuttering the facilities, a charge the U.S. disputes.
On Sept. 2, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the U.S. deputy chief of mission in Moscow, Anthony Godfrey, to deliver a formal protest note calling the purported trade office search an “unprecedented aggressive action.”
The Foreign Ministry also posted video on Facebook that it said showed FBI agents inspecting the consulate general building in San Francisco. In the video, a man in a tie knocks on several numbered doors and enters what appears to be apartment units, taking a quick glance inside before declaring everything in order.
There was no additional comment from the U.S. about whether the FBI was involved in the inspections. The State Department declined to answer additional questions about whether the premises might be searched for intelligence-gathering purposes now that the Russians have left.
Late on Sept. 2, lights shined brightly on several floors of the consulate in San Francisco and some windows were wide open.
A day earlier, black smoke was seen billowing from the chimney at the consulate as the Russians rushed to meet the deadline, and workers could be seen hauling boxes out of the stately building.
The U.S. did appear to bow to one Russian complaint - that they were given a mere 48 hours to vacate homes used by diplomats and their families. Softening the original order, the U.S. said it had made “separate arrangements” to give families “sufficient time” to pack their belongings and vacate apartments on the consulate grounds.