US diplomat summoned by Moscow to protest planned compound search

Russian Consulate in San Francisco Photo Credit: AFP

Russia on Saturday summoned the top US envoy in Moscow to protest a search it says American officials are planning at a diplomatic facility in Washington that is due to be shuttered.

The foreign ministry said it called in acting US mission head Anthony Godfrey and handed him a “note of protest over the intention of the American authorities to conduct a search” at a Russian trade representation.

“We consider the planned illegitimate search of the Russian diplomatic premises without the presence of Russian officials and a threat to break down the front door as an unprecedented, aggressive act,” a statement said.

“It could be used by the US intelligence services to organise an anti-Russian provocation involving planting compromising materials.”

The trade facility in Washington is one of three diplomatic buildings — including the consulate in San Francisco and an office in New York — that the US has ordered Moscow to vacate by Saturday in the latest twist in a tit-for-tat feud.

Diplomatic saga

Russia’s foreign ministry said Friday that US intelligence was also planning to search the consulate in San Francisco.

The US has not confirmed whether it intends to search any of the Russian buildings.

Black smoke was seen rising from a chimney at the consulate on Friday, as firefighters confirmed its occupants were burning unidentified objects.

A spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry insisted the smoke was due to measures to “preserve the building” at a time when officials were gearing up to leave.

Washington announced the closure of the Russian compounds on Thursday in retaliation for Moscow ordering the US to slash its diplomatic mission by 755 personnel by September 1.

The number of US diplomatic staff will now be capped at 455, the same number that Russia has in the United States.

The spike in tensions between the two nuclear-armed powers is another blow to US President Donald Trump, who said at the start of his presidency in January that he would try and improve relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Read: US economy hits Trump’s 3% growth target in second quarter

Ties slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War following the Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The West slapped punishing sanctions on Russia over its meddling in its ex-Soviet neighbour, sparking a revenge embargo from Moscow against agricultural products.

Last year, tensions again escalated after the US intelligence community accused Putin of masterminding a hacking and influence campaign to tip the presidential vote in favour of Trump.

And in the waning days of his tenure, former president Barack Obama hit out at Russia over the allegations by turfing out 35 diplomats and closing Russian diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland.

Moscow initially held off from retaliating but when Congress passed new sanctions tying up Trump’s hands, the Kremlin decided to belatedly strike back and ordered the US staff cut.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday Moscow is studying the latest US order to shutter the compounds and would then decide how to react.

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