The Trump administration just gave Russia 72 hours to close three of its diplomatic facilities in America in retaliation for kicking out more than 700 US diplomatic staff last month.
“In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian Government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, DC, and a consular annex in New York City,” a statement by State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert reads. “These closures will need to be accomplished by September 2.”
This is a small but symbolic step meant to signal to Russia that America didn’t take that move kindly — even if President Donald Trump continues to show a kind face to Moscow.
It also comes just three days after Trump refused to single out Russia as security threat to the United States, despite Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The State Department action continues an ongoing diplomatic rift between the US and Russia that has steadily widened despite Trump’s stated desire to develop better ties with Moscow.
The most recent chain of events that led to these closures started back on July 27. That Thursday the Senate voted to increase sanctions on Russia by a 98-2 margin. That sent the bill to President Donald Trump’s desk even though he didn’t want to sign it. (He begrudgingly did on August 2.) Days after Congress’s vote, Putin expelled 755 US diplomats and took away two American diplomatic facilities.
But instead of lashing out at Russia’s aggressive diplomatic move, Trump actually praised Putin for kicking out US diplomats, claiming Putin was actually doing the US a favor. “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters. “We’ll save a lot of money.”
There is no evidence that Putin saved America any funds by expelling diplomatic staff from the US mission because many still work for the US government. Many didn’t get fired — just reassigned. The State Department won’t disclose if there were any savings.
But after September 2, both countries will have three consulates. The US allowed Russia to keep some of its outposts “in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship,” Nauert stated.
But Nauert warned the US is ready to take further steps if Russia retaliates after the US backlash. “The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russia Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward,” the statement continues. “The United States is prepared to take further actions as necessary and as warranted.”
The Kremlin is understandably unhappy with this move. “We regret escalation of tension not initiated by Russia,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after the announcement.
It looks like Russian officials won’t thank Trump any time soon.