Russia closes Seattle consulate, but refuses to remove flag
The Russian consulate in Seattle has been closed by order of the US authorities. The staff has decided not to take down the Russian flag, though, leaving it for the Americans to deal with.
Having wrapped up their last day of work on Friday, the Seattle consulate staff gathered outside their office, rented in a 25-story office building, took a picture together, then removed the plaque with the consulate's name from the wall, RIA reports. They now have until April 2 to remove all papers and other items, as that is the date that access to the premises will be shut off.
The papers will be taken to the Consulate General, consul Valery Timashov's residence, which, unlike the office, is Russian property. From there, they will be spread out to other diplomatic missions across the US. The residence will have to be vacated as well, although the consul has until April 24 to do so.
Even as Russian diplomats vacate the buildings, the Russian flag displayed at the consul's residence will remain, Russian ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov told journalists.
"It's a decision of principle – we're not removing the flag. We are leaving the matter of the flag's safety to the decency of our American colleagues," Antonov said.
US spy services are in a rush to recruit the diplomats as they pack up to go back to Russia, both the Russian Foreign Ministry and ambassador Antonov have said.
"We know of approaches made to our diplomats, to our colleagues. Attempts are being made to persuade them to cooperate with the American special services," Antonov said. "It's all covered up with sweet-sounding promises and words, but essentially, the problem remains the same: they are being offered cooperation in the interest of the United States of America."
On Monday, the US announced the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and the closure of the Seattle consulate in connection with the UK's accusations against Russia in the Sergei Skripal poisoning case. The former double agent was affected by what London says is a Soviet-made nerve agent, although it is yet to produce the evidence to support the claim. Moscow has been denying the accusations. As a punitive measure, the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats, accusing them of being covert intelligence agents. A number of European states, as well as the US, Canada, Australia and others, followed suit, with the US sending away by far the largest number, all claiming the Russian diplomats were actually unregistered spies. Most other countries expelled one to four people each.
Moscow has retaliated with tit-for-tat measures, expelling the same number of diplomats of those countries from Russian territory. It also shut down the UK consulate in St. Petersburg and ordered London to reduce its diplomatic presence in Russia to match the number of Russian diplomats in the UK.