The U.S. is closing three Russian diplomatic properties in America in response to Russia’s order that the U.S. cut its diplomatic staff in its country, the State Department announced Thursday, in a major deterioration of the relationship between the two countries.
Russia has until Saturday to close its consulate general and the consul’s residence in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City, according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert. The annexes in both cities house Russia’s trade mission.
The move was a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to the U.S. to close two diplomatic buildings, a warehouse and a recreational facility, and reduce its staff in the country by 755 employees. That demand, made at the end of July, had a Sept. 1 deadline. Nauert said today the U.S. had met that “unwarranted and detrimental” requirement but did not provide details of which staff members were cut or where.
The U.S. embassy and consulates’ employees are largely Russian nationals, and there were reports that some 600 Russians would lose their jobs because of the cuts while 100 Americans would be forced to leave their posts. A senior administration official would only say that the U.S. had met the 455-employee cap the Russians imposed, affecting both American and Russian staffers — although American staff would be reassigned.
Nauert warned that the U.S. could have gone further, in pursuit of “parity” in diplomatic staffing levels, but chose not to in order to avoid a “downward spiral” in the relationship.
“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,” she said in a statement.
A senior administration official stressed that pursuit of better relations, saying today’s actions was the U.S. “responding in this instance to the Russian desire for parity in the diplomatic relationship … it is our hope that the Russians will recognize that since they were the ones who started the discussion on parity and we are responding and complying with what they required of us.”