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Moscow Condemns US Decision to Close 3 Russian Diplomatic Facilities - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Moscow condemned on Sunday a decision by the United States to close the Russian consulate in San Francisco and two buildings housing trade missions in Washington DC and New York.

The Russian foreign ministry described the move as a “blatantly hostile act” that violated international law.

The development is the latest broadside in a tit-for-tat exchange between the countries that has helped push relations towards a new post-Cold War low. Russian diplomats over the weekend worked to vacate the properties, including the six-story consulate.

The US order was made in late August in retaliation for Moscow cutting the United States’ diplomatic presence in Russia.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, said that US authorities had told Moscow that they expected Russia to sell the facilities, TASS state news agency reported.

“We urge the US authorities to come to their senses and immediately return the Russian diplomatic facilities,” the foreign ministry added on its website. “Otherwise the USA will bear total blame for the ongoing degradation of the relations between our countries.”

The United States had seized control of the three Russian diplomatic posts on Saturday after confirming the Russians had complied with the Trump administration’s order to get out within two days, officials said.

A senior State Department official added that US officials had joined Russian Embassy personnel for walkthroughs of the three buildings.

On Saturday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the US 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 US 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.

Relations between Russia and the US have been badly strained since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, developments which led Washington to impose sanctions on Russia.

US President Donald Trump took office in January, saying he wanted to improve ties. But relations have been damaged by accusations from American intelligence officials that Russia sought to meddle in the presidential election, something Moscow denies.

Trump, himself battling allegations his associates colluded with Russia, grudgingly signed into law last month new sanctions against Moscow that had been drawn up by Congress.

When it became clear those measures would become law, Moscow ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people.