Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Russia says US plans to break into diplomatic mission as it condemns 'unprecedented aggressive action'

Moscow summons senior US diplomat to protest over building closures in latest escalation of diplomatic tensions

Saturday 02 September 2017 18:15 BST
(Eric Risberg/AP)

Russia has hit out at the US over what it called the “unprecedented aggressive action” of plans to conduct searches in the country’s trade mission complex in Washington, upping the ante in the latest diplomatic spat between the two nations.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned Antony F Godfrey, a deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Moscow, to hand over a strongly-worded protest note. The note said the planned “illegal inspection” of Russian diplomatic premises included a "threat" to break down the front doors and any search could be used by the US special services for “anti-Russian provocations” by the way of “planting compromised items.”

The move follows an announcement from the US earlier this week that it would move to close the Russian consulate in San Francisco, as well as diplomatic annexes in New York and Washington as part of escalating tit-for-tat that began in the aftermath of the US Presidential election.

The State Department later said that Russia had compiled with the order to shut the offices, but refuted the claims of threats to break down doors. The department said a walkthrough was conducted with Russian officials and the US is upholding international law.

It also comes amid reports of fires at the Russian diplomatic premises in Washington and San Francisco, sparking speculation that documents might be being burned before closure.

In Washington, Foreign Policy reported signs that staff were burning paper at the Trade Representative of the Russian Federation, which came after images of thick black smoke coming from the chimney of the building in San Francisco.

Mindy Talmadge, a spokeswoman from the San Francisco Fire Department, told the Associated Press that the department received a call about the smoke and sent a crew to investigate but determined the smoke was coming from the chimney.

Ms Talmadge said she did not know what they were burning on a day when normally cool San Francisco temperatures had already climbed to 95 degrees by noon.

“It was not unintentional. They were burning something in their fireplace,” she said.

Responding to the reports, Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said it was part of a “mothballing”.

“In relation to this, the windows could be closed, the light could be turned off, the water could be drained out, the heating appliances could be turned off, the garbage could be thrown away, essential services could be turned off and many other things,” she wrote on social media.

Sen. Lindsey Graham: Trump is empowering Putin by ignoring the cyber attacks

The cooling of diplomatic co-operation between the two nations began in late 2016, when then-President Barack Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and the seizure of two Russian government compounds in response to US intelligence services stating that Russia had sought to interfere in the election that made Donald Trump president.

At the time, Russia said it would not retaliate immediately, but would wait to see what the Trump administration would do. However, after Donald Trump reluctantly backed expanded sanctions against Russia voted for by Congress in July, Moscow ordered the US to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by around half as well as announcing property seizures of its own. That would bring the number of staff down to 455, to match the number of Russian diplomats in the US.

That move prompted the US to announce the closures in San Francisco and on the East Coast, bringing the latest Russian protest note.

“The note stressed that we are considering a planned illegitimate search of diplomatic premises in Russia without the presence of Russian officials and a threat to crack the front door as an unprecedented, aggressive action that can also be used by the US special services to organise an anti-Russian provocation using planted compromising objects,” a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“The US authorities must stop the gross violations of international law and breaching the immunity of Russia's diplomatic institutions. Otherwise, we reserve the right to reciprocate on mutual basis,” it added.”

The United States says Russia has complied with its order to shutter the San Francisco consulate and trade offices in Washington and New York.

But it is disputing Russia's claim that U.S. officials threatened to break down the doors as part of a plan to search the premises. A senior State Department official told the Associated Press that personnel from the Russian Embassy joined State Department officials for walkthroughs of the three properties so the US could verify the Russians had vacated ahead of the Saturday deadline. The official says it's untrue that the FBI is “clearing the premises.”

A senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin called Washington's had decried the US decision to close the diplomatic premises via state media late on Friday.

“These new steps push the bilateral relations further into a deadlock,” Yuri Ushakov told Russia Today late Friday.

“Moreover, they contradict the statements made by the US President's administration, including at the highest level, on the establishment of cooperation… Unfortunately, the spiral of unfriendly moves tightens,” he said.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in