Politics & Government

U.S. says Russian relationship in ‘downward spiral’

The U.S. has retaliated against Russia for its expulsion of U.S. diplomats.
The U.S. has retaliated against Russia for its expulsion of U.S. diplomats. AP

The United States ordered Moscow to close a consulate in San Francisco in retaliation for the Kremlin’s decision to force Washington to downsize its presence in Russia.

The State Department announced Thursday that the consulate, along with a facility in New York City and one in Washington, D.C., must be shuttered by Sept. 2.

“With this action both countries will remain with three consulates each,” the State Department said in a statement Thursday. “While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship.”

An administration official told reporters in a background briefing that “for a variety of reasons” the consulate in San Francisco had been selected for closure. The official residence in that city is also being shuttered. While the State Department is not mandating that Russia sell those properties or those in New York and Washington, the facilities can no longer be used for diplomatic or consular activity. The East Coast properties housed Russian trade missions, the State Department said.

No Russian diplomats working at the missions are being formally expelled by the U.S., and those employees can continue their work at other Russian facilities in the country.

The action follows a Russian order last month to downsize the U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday to inform him the U.S. complied with Moscow’s demand that the American diplomatic presence in Russia be reduced. The State Department said the reduction impacted both American and Russian staff, but declined to say what happened to the personnel whose jobs had been eliminated.

“It is our hope that the Russians will recognize that since they were the ones who started the discussion on parity,” the administration official said, that “we’re responding and complying with what they required of us.”

Russia’s expulsion of U.S. diplomats in July was in response to an Obama administration closure of Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S. last December. That action was taken following harassment of U.S. diplomats in Russia, as well as Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. Moscow did not take action at that time to retaliate against the U.S., ostensibly hoping to have warmer ties to the incoming Trump administration.

“The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern,” the State Department said. “The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.”