Russian Trade Representation in Washington (Xinhuanet.com)
On August 31, the U.S. demanded that the Russian government close three of its diplomatic posts: the Russian Consulate General in San Francisco, the trade representation in Washington, D.C., and the trade representation in New York, by September 2. The State Department declared that the action was taken "in the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians," so that both countries will remain with three consulates each. The State Department noted: "While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian Government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship."
On September 1, U.S. media outlets reported that as the workers were preparing to close the Russian Consulate in San Francisco, black smoke was seen billowing from a chimney. AP stressed that the Russian mission was "burning unidentified items in a fireplace." It should be noted that the Russian Consulate expected searches in the diplomatic facilities by the FBI on the next day, September 2.
Russian MFA spokesperson Zakharova explained the smoke as a preventive maintenance measure: "Measures are underway to conserve the building, which may include shutting the windows, pulling down curtains, turning off the lights, draining water, locking the doors, throwing away garbage, switching off the heaters… and much more."
Commenting about the smoke from the Russian Consulate's chimney, Maxim Sokolov, a RIA news agency columnist, commented on the frightening symbolism of the scene: "The smoke rising from the Consulate's chimney smells war. A real war with the smoke of burnt out places. Just a few decades ago it was obvious to everyone – and the reaction following the burning of diplomatic archives in the diplomatic mission of a superpower was far from amusing. Possibly, the perestroika, the new thinking for our country and for the whole world [terms associated with Mikhail Gorbachev a discredited figure in Putin's Russia] have addled the brains in a way that people are afraid of Stalin, Orthodox Christian obscurantism, a devil in a pot of soup – but they are unafraid when the consular staff is burning the archives. There can be no more frightening warning than burning the papers."
In this far from auspicious atmosphere, Russia's new Ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, started his fist day at work on September 1. Official Russia denounced the American action as "hooliganism", "clownery" and a sign of America's general frustration in dealing with a new global reality, where America no longer had its way. The Vienna treaties that made diplomatic chanceries sacrosanct and diplomats inviolate were also invoked.
The following is a review of official reactions to the seizure of Russian diplomatic property:
(Source: Twitter.com/thehill, September 1, 2017)
Putin: 'The U.S. Stripped Russia Of The Right To Use Our Property, Which Is A Clear Violation Of Russia’s Property Rights'
Putin at the news conference following BRICS Summit. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
During a press conference for the Russian speaking press following the BRICS summit, Russian president Vladimir Putin commented on the diplomatic property seizure:
Q: "One of the top news stories these days is the U.S. decision to shut down several Russian diplomatic facilities, which in essence amounts to another instance of seizing diplomatic property.
"The Russian Foreign Ministry has used the words 'seizure' and 'searches'. You have not said anything on this matter so far. Will you comment on it now? Will Russia respond to all this? If so, what response would it be?"
Vladimir Putin: "The thing is that we have agreed with our partners that Russia and the United States should have parity in terms of personnel or diplomats in their missions in each other’s country. I believe there were 1,300 American diplomats working in Russia and 455 Russian diplomats in the United States. We have balanced the figure.
"I would like you to take note of the fact that this figure, 455 Russian diplomats working in the United States, also includes (provisionally) the 155 Russians working at the United Nations. Strictly speaking, they are not diplomats accredited at the U.S. Department of State but diplomats working at an international organization.
"When the United States wanted the UN to be headquartered in New York, it pledged to properly ensure its operation. So strictly speaking, the number of American diplomats in Moscow should be not 455 but 155 fewer, if we are talking about parity.
"So, we reserve the right to take a new decision on the number of American diplomats in Moscow. We will not do this immediately but will see how things develop.
"The Americans had the right to reduce the number of our diplomatic offices. It is another matter altogether that they have done this in way that was absolutely uncivil. This does not do reflect well on our American partners.
"It is difficult to talk to people who confuse Austria and Australia. But there is nothing we can do about this; this is the level of political culture among part of the American establishment.
As for the American people, America is truly a great nation if the Americans can put up with so many politically uncivilized people.
"Excuse me, but, with regard to the buildings and structures, this is unprecedented. As a graduate of the St Petersburg University law department, I, or any other lawyer for that matter, can tell you that property rights consist of three elements: the right to own, use, and dispose of such property.
"The United States stripped Russia of the right to use our property, which is a clear violation of Russia’s property rights. So, to begin with, I will ask our Foreign Ministry to file a lawsuit. We will see how effectively the much-lauded American judicial system works."
(Kremlin.ru, September 5, 2017)
Presidential Aide Ushakov: 'Tensions In Bilateral Ties Will Rise Further. We Regret It'
Russian Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov noted: "The Americans are taking away properties again and closing down general consulates. In other words, the Americans have taken away five facilities that were our property. Five of them enjoyed diplomatic immunity. The office of the trade mission in New York that we leased was another one. In all, they took away six facilities - the five we owned and another one we leased. It’s a raider seizure. We’ll think over to how we’ll respond… They do not only take properties away but also hinder the operation of our embassy and diplomatic offices. We will consider a response. At the same time it is very undesirable to have a clash, because somebody should display common sense and put an end to the grave condition of our bilateral relations."
He then added: "The U.S. administration continues to damage bilateral relations, presumably with no regard to consequences not only for our countries, but for the global security as well… It can only cause regret and disappointment… It means that tensions in bilateral ties will rise further. We regret it and we are going to calmly consider our response."
(Tass.com, September 1, 2017)
Russian MFA: We Urge The U.S. To Return The Russian Diplomatic Facilities, Otherwise The U.S. Will Bear The Blame For The Degradation Of Relations Between Our Countries
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated: "On September 2, U.S. authorities seized the buildings of the General Consulate of the Russian Federation in San Francisco and the Trade Representation in Washington, D.C., which are the property of Russia and have a diplomatic immunity. Russian representatives are also being denied access to the rented premises of the Trade Representation in New York.
"This outrageous move is in line with actual expropriation of Russia-owned countryside residences near Washington, D.C. and New York last December. At present, the U.S. special services supported by armed police are in control of the seized buildings.
"We treat these developments as a blatantly hostile act, a grave violation by Washington of international law, including the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations and the bilateral Convention on Consular Relations.
"We urge the U.S. authorities to come to their senses and to immediately return the Russian diplomatic facilities. Otherwise the U.S.A. will bear the total blame for the ongoing degradation of the relations between our countries, on which the current condition of the global stability and international security largely depends."
(Mid.ru, September 3, 2017)
FM Lavrov: 'The Post-Bipolar Era Is Over'; 'American Partners Are More Interested In Solo Break Dancing'
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Lavrov at the MGIMO University (Source: Mid.ru)
Speaking at a meeting with students of the faculty of MGIMO University and the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed Russia-U.S.-West relations:
"Russia has a unique geostrategic position, substantial military-political and economic potential and the status of permanent member of the UN Security Council. Owing to these factors Russia is a key center of human civilization. We have repeatedly proved throughout history that we can successfully resolve the tasks of our domestic development, uphold our sovereignty and, if need be, to protect the rights of our compatriots abroad and support our allies. History has shown that nobody can subordinate us to foreign influence and try to resolve their problems at our expense. I am sure this will not happen in the future, either. Let me repeat that probably not all learn these lessons.
"It is no secret that part of what is called the political elite of the West does not like our independent policy. They would like to deal with an obedient Russia that is ready to make concessions to its own detriment. And so they seek to punish us for upholding our lawful place in international affairs and the world. You certainly are familiar with these attempts to punish us. They are using various tools of deterrence, sanctions, and information warfare to distort our principled approach to various international issues and smear our foreign policy.
"It is well-known who violated the basic principles of international law in the past few years – sovereign equality of states and commitments not to interfere in their internal affairs and to resolve all disputes by peaceful means. These principles are sealed in the UN Charter. We know who trampled on their obligations in the OSCE, resolutions of the UN Security Council, who bombed Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya and wreaked havoc in the Middle East and North Africa, and who allowed the emergence of the terrorist international that spawned al-Qaeda, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, which are now the main enemies of all humankind…
"Importantly, in doing so we are not striving to restore empire or achieve geopolitical or some other form of expansion. All we want is to build our own lives ourselves, without foreign prompting and unwelcome advice, without attempts to incite against us friendly and kindred nations with whom we are bound by many centuries of shared history, culture, traditions and family ties. We are not imposing our views or advice on anyone, but as I have already said, we do not accept anyone’s claims of exceptionalism, or the logic of 'Gods may do what cattle may not'…
"We see that many Western politicians find it difficult to accept the obvious – the post-bipolar era is over. The hopes of replacing it with hegemony were not realized. Today, we are witnessing the development of a new, more just and democratic polycentric arrangement based on the emergence and consolidation of new centers of economic power and related political influence. Guided by their own national interests, countries and emerging power centers are striving to play an active role in the formation of the international agenda to make it reflect their interests and are confidently assuming their share of responsibility for maintaining security and stability at different levels. In effect, a multi-polar system reflects the cultural and civilizational diversity of the modern world, the desire of nations to decide their destinies themselves and a natural striving for justice as envisioned by those who wrote the UN Charter. Having re-read it, we will understand that those who seek more justice in world affairs are not asking for anything extraordinary.
"A small group of Western states, which strive to thwart the aspirations of peoples and stoop to diktat and the use of force in circumvention of the UN Security Council, is certainly standing in the way of forming a multipolar world order, but no one can stop this objective and relentless process…
"With regard to our other neighbor, the United States, as President Putin put it, we are not looking for trouble with that country and have always been friendly with the American people. We are now open to constructive interaction inasmuch as it meets Russian interests. We sincerely want the bilateral political atmosphere to become normal. However, as you know, it takes two to tango. So far it seems like our American partners are more interested in solo break dancing…"
(Mid.ru, September 1, 2017)
Lavrov: 'We Are Witnessing Some Paroxysms Linked With The Very Same Exceptionalism That Obama Repeatedly Emphasized'; 'An Inability To Perceive Reality Was Very Typical Of The Obama Administration'
During the meeting with MGIMO students, Lavrov also answered questions about the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the U.S.:
Q: "It appears that Washington perceives Russian diplomatic property in the United States as a 'bargaining chip.' Is this true? If so, what do they want in return?"
Sergey Lavrov: "To be honest, I don’t even want to comment on this.
"We are witnessing some paroxysms linked with the very same exceptionalism that President Barack Obama repeatedly emphasized, arrogantly showing a place that, in his opinion, all other countries must occupy.
"Anti-Russia sanctions began back in 2013, long before the Ukrainian developments. Various pretexts were invented. The tragedy around lawyer Sergey Magnitsky was over-exaggerated. Many interesting facts are now coming to light; and those who incited this scandal and declared sanctions on its basis are trying to hush up these facts, to influence courts examining lawsuits against the very same Bill Browder who, as our investigators firmly believe, was directly linked with frauds that had led to the death of Sergey Magnitsky. Other sanctions followed. They were offended by the fact that Edward Snowden decided not to fly to a country where he would have faced the death penalty but requested asylum here for humanitarian reasons. In 2013, President Obama even cancelled his visit to Moscow that had been coordinated in the run-up to the G20 summit in St Petersburg.
An inability to perceive reality was very typical of the Obama administration. Edward Snowden had requested political asylum in Russia at a time when millions of people are requesting political asylum in the United States. They also abduct some people and bring any conceivable charges against them. Quite possibly, Edward Snowden did commit some actions that are seen as illegal by U.S. legislation. But the United States never extradited any people to us, even those who had committed crimes in Russia. He did not violate anything in Russia and asked the Russian authorities to protect him from the U.S. judiciary system that might well have sentenced him to be executed in the electric chair.
"Here is another highly important fact: Snowden’s passport was cancelled, while he was flying from Hong Kong to Moscow where he wanted to board a flight to Latin America. Under all laws, including international laws, we had no right to let him out of the airport where the decision to grant him asylum was made.
"Quite possibly, President Obama had experienced certain complexes, and this was manifested in his inability to fulfill an agreement on the Syrian settlement. The Americans simply proved unable to do what had been agreed upon and what unequivocally met their interests. Maybe, they did not want to separate the very same Jabhat al-Nusra and to stop cooperating with it, or, maybe, they proved unable to do this. Our suspicions always revolved around the fact that they wanted to eventually use this organization for overthrowing the Bashar al-Assad regime. So far, these suspicions are backed by nothing except facts implying that they are not fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra, and that they have failed to keep their promise to isolate it."
(Mid.ru, September 1, 2017)
Deputy FM Ryabkov: 'I Tend To Call This State Hooliganism'
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said: "We won’t hurry up with any answers. In general, it is difficult in these situations when one comes up against hooliganism, to figure out what sort of response should be taken… But we will find this reaction."
He elaborated further: "One may try to call hooligans to order, especially those who possibly, due to some reasons, lost control of themselves and had behaved decently before. I don’t think there will be any hasty steps."
Ryabkov also explained that "searches" were made in the diplomatic missions, not inspections. Ryabkov noted: "No, these are searches, and the U.S. side meant this from the very beginning… In previous years, someone was called a state sponsor of international terrorism. I tend to call this state hooliganism."
(Tass.com, September 4, 2017)
MFA Spokesperson Zakharova: 'This Is An Infernal Clownery'
(Sources clockwise: Mid.ru, Armradio.am, Mid.ru, Mid.ru,)
After the U.S. decision to conduct searches in the Russian facilities, Russian spokesperson Maria Zakharova wrote in her Facebook account:
"Fool in Muds [a game of words referring to the U.S. operation 'Desert Storm')
"I'm watching the footage of FBI agents, searching Russian compounds, and I arrive at the understanding that this is a piece of infernal clownery, [which is] foolish, unlawful, senseless. What for?! To show all the power of the U.S. special services? They've done it – now we've seen all that: even an FBI agent, who's been ashamed of all that happened. Did they intend to break in, breaking the lock and doors? We are polite people - we open by our will, why should we damage our own property?
"Did they think they could have provoked an aggression on our diplomatic staff's side, who'd been abused for the last couple of days and last couple of years? They won't get it – we do not participate in this circus.
"Might be, they intended to humiliate [us]? No doubts. I also have no doubts that those are American 'siloviki' who feel humiliated - those who search others' corners, sneak into closets and pay lip service by smiling, while hiding their faces from the cameras. They curse their superiors who sent them to participate in this circus performance of a worldwide nature. I feel pity for them: they are, apparently, ordinary hard working people, who need to breed their families and pay taxes. 'What the hell am I doing here, pretending I'm Mister Smith' [Zakharova refers to the American spy movie Mr. &Mrs. Smith] when knocking of the doors of these Russians? 'What did we forget here? Who needs all this?' – They think. And this is just a beginning. Here is a sample dialogue they will face this evening when they get back home:
'-Dad, I've seen you on TV today. What did you do there at the Russian place?'
'-We conducted a search.'
'-Did you find anything?'
'-You, finish your meal.'
"These Russophobic series are so well funded that they may afford any scenery.
"In one word, Fools in the Mud. This will be a code name for the FBI search operation at the Russian compounds – and this is how history will remember it. "
(Facebook.com/maria.zakharova.167, September 2, 2017)
Zakharova: 'This Move Is Yet Another Blatant Violation Of International Law'
The Russian MFA also published the following comment by Zakharova:
"On August 31, the U.S. authorities announced unprecedented restrictive measures against Russian diplomatic and consular missions in the U.S., requiring us to close, in a matter of two days, the consulate general in San Francisco, one of the largest Russian consulates in the US that provides visa, notary and other consular services to Russian and US nationals from across a number of densely populated states. Russia is also required to close without delay its Trade Representation in Washington, D.C. and its annex in New York. The U.S. also tightened requirements regarding the mobility of Russian diplomats and official delegations.
"This move is yet another blatant violation of international law, including the commitments undertaken by the US under the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations. It goes far beyond Washington’s previous initiatives, which included the expropriation by the Barack Obama administration in December 2016 of countryside retreats of the Russian Embassy and Permanent Mission to the UN, despite their immunity status.
"Following the illegal seizure of high-value Russian state property, we are being pushed to sell them. On top of that, the latest demands announced by the U.S. pose a direct threat to the security and safety of Russian citizens. The U.S. secret services intend to conduct a search of the Consulate General in San Francisco on September 2, including the apartments of its staff who live in the building and have immunity. In this connection, they were ordered to leave the premises for a period of 10 to 12 hours with their families, including small children and even infants. This is an intrusion into a consular office and the residence of diplomatic workers, who are forced outside so as not to stand in the way of the FBI agents.
"With these defiant moves, the U.S. continues to worsen an already complicated bilateral climate and undermines opportunities for working together, including on solutions to urgent international issues.
"It is especially dismaying that these measures will hurt tens of thousands of ordinary people from both countries who are far from politics. By stopping issuing visas to Russian nationals at its consulates general in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, and now depriving US citizens of the possibility to obtain Russian visas in San Francisco, the U.S. clearly shows that it has no interest in promoting people-to-people ties. In fact, this builds on the Barack Obama administration’s policy whereby back in 2013 the FBI tried to intimidate Americans wishing to take part in trips to Russia sponsored by Russia’s Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation, and in 2016 the U.S. Department of State stripped of their credentials five Russian honorary consuls in various states, who were proactive in promoting social exchanges.
"Russia strongly protests against Washington’s actions that defy international law, and reserves the possibility to take retaliatory action, as is customary in diplomatic affairs. This was not Russia’s choice. It was imposed on us."
(Mid.ru, September 1, 2017)
Zakharova: 'Just Try To Imagine That You Are Being Brainwashed For A Year That An Enemy Is Living Overseas'
During an interview with Rossiya 1 TV channel, Zakharova elaborated further on the FBI searches:
"By the way, do you know, what they were looking for - as we were told before the searches? You would not believe it - they were looking for explosives." Tass news agency reported that Zakharova ironically noted that it can be easily imagined how Russian diplomats are carrying explosives in their elegant cases.
She then stated that the U.S. hoped that Russian diplomats would lose their temper to show "an image of an aggressive Russian." Zakharova explained: "Just try to imagine that you are being brainwashed for a year that an enemy is living overseas and this enemy is impacting your life and everything bad that might happen - the election of a president you don’t like - has been done by the Russians… On September 2, black cars with FBI and State Department officers rolled up to our consulate general in San Francisco and they came into the building… A day before, the directorate chief said that if the doors of our diplomatic compound, which is our property, were closed they would be broken. More to it, a car of a private company specializing in forcing open doors, locks and safes drove to our trade mission in Washington. We have posted this video in the internet. I don’t know how our diplomats could find nerve enough to open the doors and be polite."
(Tass.com, September 3, 2017)
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7032, Russia's Reactions To The New Round Of U.S. Sanctions – Part I, July 31, 2017.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7040, Russia Reacts To The New Round Of U.S. Sanctions – Part II, August 4, 2017.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7042, Russia Reacts To The New Round Of U.S. Sanctions – Part III, August 7, 2017.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7045, Russia Reacts To The New Round Of U.S. Sanctions – Part IV, August 8, 2017.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7037, Russia-Government Funded Think Tank: The Hidden Target Of The New Round Of U.S. Sanctions Is To Undermine The German Economy, August 3, 2017.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7041, 'Kommersant' Columnist Strokan: The U.S. Bill Reduces Trump To The Role Of A Spectator With No Influence On Russian-American Relations, August 6, 2017.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.7068, Official Russian Reactions To U.S. Decision On Suspension Of Consular Non-Immigrant Visa Operations, August 27, 2017.
 Businessinsider.com, September 1, 2017.
 The Russian MFA published in its Twitter account and Facebook account videos of FBI agents searching buildings in San Francisco, and Washington DC. See: https://www.rt.com/news/401842-trade-mission-dc-closed/
 Sputniknews.com, September 2, 2017.
 Ria.ru, September 4, 2017.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7069, Anatoly Antonov, Russia's New Ambassador To The U.S., August 28, 2017.