Russia Pledges ‘Harsh Response’ to US Tit-for-Tat Measures

September 1, 2017 Updated: September 1, 2017

MOSCOW—Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow would respond harshly to U.S. measures designed to hurt it, a day after the United States told Russia to close its San Francisco consulate and buildings in Washington and New York.

Lavrov, addressing Russian students, complained that the United States had only given Moscow 48 hours to comply with its demands and hinted that Russia might look at ordering further reductions in U.S. embassy staff.

He was speaking after the United States told Russia on Thursday to close its consulate in San Francisco and buildings in Washington and New York that house trade missions in retaliation for Moscow cutting the U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia.

The entrance to the building of the Consulate General of Russia is shown in San Francisco, Calif., on August 31, 2017.   (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)
The entrance to the building of the Consulate General of Russia is shown in San Francisco, Calif., on August 31, 2017. (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

 

An unidentified woman talks with a man outside the gate at the entrance to the building of the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2017.   (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

An unidentified woman talks with a man outside the gate at the entrance to the building of the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2017. (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

“We’ll react as soon as we finish our analysis,” Lavrov told students.

“But I want to say that this whole story with (the two countries) exchanging tit-for-tat sanctions was not started by us. It was started by the Obama administration to undermine US-Russia relations and to not allow (President Donald) Trump to advance constructive ideas or fulfil his pre-election pledges.”

“We will respond harshly to things that damage us.”

Last month, Moscow ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people to match the number of Russian diplomats in the United States, after Congress overwhelmingly approved new sanctions against Russia. The sanctions were imposed in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and to punish Russia further for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

“We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on Thursday, adding that the United States had completed the reduction.

“In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians,” Nauert said, the United States has required the Russian government to close its San Francisco consulate and two annexes in Washington, D.C. and New York by Sept. 2.

A midtown Manhattan office building that houses the Russian consulate annex is seen in New York on Aug. 31, 2017. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)
A midtown Manhattan office building that houses the Russian consulate annex is seen in New York on Aug. 31, 2017. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

 

The Russian flag waves in the wind on the rooftop of the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 31, 2017.   (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)
The Russian flag waves in the wind on the rooftop of the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 31, 2017. (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

The latest U.S. move caps eight months of back-and-forth retaliatory measures between the two countries spanning two U.S. administrations.

In December, the administration of Barack Obama closed two Russian countryside vacation retreats in Maryland and New York, saying the compounds had been used for intelligence-related purposes. The closures were part of a broader response, including the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies, to what U.S. officials have called cyber interference by Moscow in the 2016 elections. The Kremlin has denied the allegations.

The United States said it would have to sharply scale back visa services in Russia, a move that will hit Russian business travelers, tourists and students.

The Russian consulate in San Francisco handles work from seven states in the Western United States. There are three other Russian consulates separate from the embassy in Washington. They are in New York, Seattle and Houston.

By Andrew Osborn and Yeganeh Torbati