“The latest shameful event. In San Francisco (Russian) flags have been stolen from the building of @ConsulRussiaSF,” Russia’s Embassy in Washington said in a Wednesday Twitter post together with photos and footage of the closed diplomatic facility without the Russian state flags.
It demanded that the American authorities “return our state symbols.”
The Russian Mission to the US also expressed its strong dissent over the incident in a separate statement on its official Facebook account. It stopped short of calling the incident a theft, however.
“A strong objection was sent to the American side in the wake of the removal of Russian flags from the diplomatic property in San Francisco, controlled by the US authorities. We perceive it as an extremely unfriendly move. We demand [the US] immediately returns the Russian state symbols to their place and prevents such incidents in the future,” the statement read.
According to some reports, the flags have been missing since Monday.
The premises were vacated on October 1, after the US State Department announced in early September that it had to be shut down, along with a Russian consular annex in New York City and a chancery annex in Washington DC.
Meanwhile, an unnamed official from the US State Department told Russia’s Sputnik news agency that “the flags at the former Russian consular properties in San Francisco were respectfully lowered and are safely stored within each of the buildings.”
The diplomatic row between Moscow and Washington erupted in late 2016, when the then-US administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats “over espionage” and closed two Russian diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland amid allegations that Moscow had interfered in the US presidential election in November 2016.
Kremlin strongly rejected the allegations at the time but initially held off retaliation.
The dispute, however, further escalated when the US Congress imposed new sanctions on Moscow in July, prompting Moscow to order Washington to cut the number of its diplomatic and technical staff working across Russia by almost 60 percent — reducing the number to 455 — in a belated tit-for-tat move. Kremlin also suspended the use of all warehouses in Moscow by the US embassy starting from August 1.
A Russia Foreign Ministry official said on Wednesday that Moscow might order Washington to slash the number of its diplomatic personnel across Russia even further.
Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his American counterpart, Rex Tillerson, that the Russian diplomatic properties had been “illegally seized” by the US government, demanding their return to Moscow’s embassy in Washington.
Lavrov further warned Tillerson during a phone conversation that Washington had to be prepared for the consequences and possible retaliation if Russian diplomatic properties were not returned.