US & Canada

Russia condemns US 'plans' to search Washington trade mission

People wait in line to enter the Russian consulate on 1 September 2017 in San Francisco, California. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Trump administration has ordered the closure of three Russian diplomatic facilities

Russia's foreign ministry has summoned a top US diplomat in Moscow to protest against a search it says American officials are planning of a Russian trade mission building in Washington.

It said the inspection would be "illegal" and an "unprecedented aggressive action".

The US government has not responded.

Russia's diplomatic building in Washington is one of three due to be closed on Saturday as part of tit-for-tat actions between the two countries.

The US state department announced on Thursday that it would require Russia to shut the complexes - in Washington, New York and San Francisco - in response to enforced staff cuts at the US mission in Russia. It did not mention that searches would be conducted.

But in a statement released on Saturday, the Russian foreign ministry said it had summoned Anthony Godfrey, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Moscow, and handed him a note in protest at the supposed plans.

It said it feared the US intelligence service could use the search to "orchestrate an anti-Russian provocation by planting compromising items".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Russian chancery annex in Washington, DC, was due to be shut down on Saturday

"We consider the planned illegal search of Russian diplomatic premises in the absence of Russian officials and the threat we have received to break down the door of the building as an unprecedented aggressive action," the statement said (in Russian).

Meanwhile, black smoke coming from a chimney at the Russian consulate in San Francisco on Friday prompted speculation on social media.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook (in Russian) that it was part of "activities to conserve the building".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The source of the smoke from Russia's consulate in San Francisco was the subject of speculation

"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 said.

The Kremlin has condemned the latest order to shut the compounds, saying it is another blow to the already deteriorating relationship between the US and Russia.

In July, President Vladimir Putin said staff numbers at US diplomatic missions in Russia would have to be slashed by 755, in retaliation for new US sanctions against Moscow.

The sanctions were designed as punishment for Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russian interference in the US election.

President Barack Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, along with the closure of two compounds, last December - in response to allegations of election interference.

His successor, Donald Trump, has been dogged by claims that Russia tried to sway the election in his favour and several investigations are under way to determine whether anyone from his campaign colluded with Moscow.

But the Kremlin has repeatedly denied interfering and Mr Trump has insisted that there was no collusion, calling the investigations a "witch hunt".

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