The Department of State announced Thursday that it has ordered Russia to close three consular facilities in the U.S., the latest swipe in an ongoing diplomatic dispute between Washington and Moscow.
Russia will have to shutter its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City, according to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
The order was given in retaliation for the Kremlin’s demand that the U.S. significantly reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia, an action Nauert called “unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries.”
The closures, which have to be completed by Sept. 2, are intended to achieve parity in the number of consulates each county has in the other. The U.S. currently operates consulates in the Russian cities of Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok, in addition to the embassy in Moscow.
“With this action both countries will remain with three consulates each,” Nauert said in a statement. “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.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S. to reduce its diplomatic staff last month to a total of 455 people after Congress imposed sanctions on Russia as punishment for election meddling and foreign military interventions. As the State Department scrambled to comply with the order, it suspended visa issuance throughout the U.S. mission to Russia until Sept. 1, the deadline given to complete the staff reductions. (RELATED: State Department Suspends Visa Operations In Russia)
During a Thursday morning phone call, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson informed his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, of the completed staff reduction and the impeding order against Russia’s consular facilities, a senior administration official confirmed Thursday.
“We’re responding in this instance to the Russian desire for parity in the diplomatic relationship,” the official told reporters on background. “We’ve taken these steps in that measure and in that spirit.”
Under the latest order, Russia will have to abandon its consulate building and official diplomatic residence in San Francisco. The consular annexes to be closed in New York and Washington contain Russian trade missions, the official said.
Russia’s consulates in New York, Seattle and Houston will remain open.
While the U.S. has ordered the closure of diplomatic facilities, the State Department is not seeking to expel any Russian diplomats at this time, according to the official. Personnel working at the targeted facilities may be reassigned to other offices within the Russian mission.
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