WASHINGTON, D.C.: US federal agents inspected a Russian trade mission in Washington to confirm its closure on Saturday, despite a furious diplomatic protest from Moscow.
The United States and Russia are in the grip of a diplomatic dispute, and the trade representative’s office is part of a group of properties Washington has ordered closed.
Russian officials were forewarned of the inspection and, according to a report in Foreign Policy magazine, lit a fire on Friday apparently to burn documents at the facility.
“Today, Russian Embassy personnel, together with State Department officials, walked through three properties in San Francisco, New York and Washington, DC that the Russian government is required to close,” a State Department official said.
“These inspections were carried out to secure and protect the facilities and to confirm the Russian government had vacated the premises,” he said, adding that all three are now closed.
On Saturday, US agents could be seen on the grounds of the Washington mansion, which served as both the home and office of the Russian trade representative. It has been owned by Moscow since the Soviet era.
The trade mission in Washington is one of three diplomatic buildings —including the consulate in San Francisco and an office in New York —that the US had ordered Moscow to vacate by Saturday.
Russia’s foreign ministry said Friday that US intelligence was also planning to search the consulate in San Francisco.
Washington issued the closure order Thursday in retaliation for Moscow ordering the US to slash its diplomatic mission by 755 personnel by September 1.
The number of US diplomatic staff will now be capped at 455, the same number that Russia has in the United States.