In an escalating tit-for-tat, the United States forced Russia on Thursday to shutter its consulate in San Francisco and scale back its diplomatic presence in Washington and New York, as relations between the two former Cold War foes continued to unravel.
The Trump administration said the move constituted its response to the Kremlin's "unwarranted and detrimental" decision to force the U.S. to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia. Under the order, Russia must close its San Francisco consulate by Saturday, along with Russia's "chancery annex" in Washington and a "consular annex" in New York.
"The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. Still, she said the U.S. hoped both countries could now move toward "improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern."
Earlier this month, the Kremlin retaliated for stepped-up U.S. sanctions on Russia by announcing the U.S. would have to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people. During meetings in the Philippines shortly thereafter, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left open the possibility the U.S., in turn, would retaliate for that move, and promised Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a formal response by Sept. 1.
The U.S. has said as a result, it will stop issuing visas at its consulates in Russia in cities other than Moscow. A senior U.S. official said Thursday that the U.S. reduction of diplomatic staff is complete.
There was no immediate reaction from the Russian government. But given the back-and-forth nature of the escalating tensions over the past year, it was likely the Kremlin would feel compelled to respond by taking further action against the U.S.
Nevertheless, the United States argued that the score has been evened, urging Russia not to retaliate for the retaliation. U.S. officials pointed out that Russia, when it ordered the cut in U.S. diplomats, had argued it was merely bringing the size of the two countries' diplomatic presences into "parity."
"The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation's desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides," Nauert said.