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In 'Spirit Of Parity,' U.S. Orders Russia To Close Consulate, 2 Annexes

Russia's consulate general in San Francisco, as seen at the end of last year.
Josh Edelson
AFP/Getty Images
Russia's consulate general in San Francisco, as seen at the end of last year.

The U.S. State Department has ordered Russia to shutter its consulate general in San Francisco as well as an annex building in New York City and one in Washington, D.C.

The decision was made "in the spirit of parity," the department said in a statement Thursday, indicating it was a direct response to the Kremlin's decision last month to force the expulsion of 755 U.S. diplomats and staff.

"We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries," said department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. Still, Nauert noted in her statement that the U.S. has "fully implemented" the Russian order, which had set its deadline for Friday.

The State Department has set a Saturday deadline for compliance with its own order.

The exchange of diplomatic volleys did not begin with Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement at the end of July, however. The Russian declaration had been a retaliation, in its own right, for the "insolence" demonstrated by new sanctions overwhelmingly passed by U.S. lawmakers. Those sanctions on Russia's mining and oil industry, which President Trump signed despite reservations, were in turn a reprisal for Moscow's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Indeed, the tit for tat of diplomatic downsizing could be traced to last year, when President Obama in the waning days of his administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two of the country's compounds in the U.S. At the time, it appeared Putin might actually hold his return fire, saying he would wait to see how Trump would handle matters.

Now, more than half a year into Trump's term, the State Department says relations between the two countries are in a "downward spiral" — but adds that, in the interest of arresting that slide, it will not be pursuing true parity in diplomatic sites. The agency is careful to note that while both now have three consulates each, Russia will continue to have more diplomatic and consular annexes in the U.S. than Americans have in Russia.

And the closures will not expel any further Russian personnel; they will be free to remain in the country, even if at different posts.

On behalf of the State Department, Nauert expressed hope that "having moved toward the Russian Federation's desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides."

In a statement quoted by ABC, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he regrets "the escalation of tensions" and that the Kremlin will examine the new order more carefully before crafting its response.

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Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.