Russia is threatening to raid State Department facilities as payback for Washington's decision to close three Russian sites over the past week.
"Does Washington believe that we also have the right to similarly ‘inspect' the buildings of U.S. diplomatic and consular missions in Russia?" Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a late Wednesday statement.
The threat derives from what the Russians claim U.S. officials did when taking control of the three facilities that were closed in the course of a spat over sanctions that traces back to Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. of conducting "an illegal invasion of Russian diplomatic premises" and then engaging in "obscure [construction] work" upon entering the sites.
Zakharova even hinted that Russia considered resisting U.S. efforts to enter the facilities by force, before ultimately acquiescing. "[T]here were small children of the families of our employees in the residential part of the Consulate General in San Francisco, whose safety would have been in jeopardy in the event that the building was taken by force," she said. "We could not take that risk."
State Department officials maintain that the U.S. is "fully adhering" to international agreements and federal laws, while disputing critical details in the Russian version of events. Zakharova's claim that the U.S. side "threatened to break down doors ... is untrue," according to a department spokesperson. And the "obscure work" that Zakharova mentioned involved "sawing, planing, all of which we understand is causing major damage to the historical interior," she said, and was conducted in the presence of Russian officials, according to the U.S. side.
The State Department explained that the facilities have been closed, but the families living in the residential sections are being permitted to stay on the premises for another month while they prepare to leave.
"This requires us to physically limit access to the non-residential parts of the Consulate building," the State Department spokesperson told the Washington Examiner. "This week we brought in outside contractors to construct a partition between the office space and the residential area of the building, and to secure the offices and sheds on the roof of the consulate. The State Department informed the Russian government of the necessity of that construction work before it began and invited Russian officials to observe the work as it was taking place. That work is now complete."
Zakharova accused the State Department of inventing "blatant lies" to obscure how American officials "are behaving like occupiers" of the facilities. "If the State Department wishes to use the term ‘inspection' to describe such outrageous actions, where uninvited guests drive the hosts out onto the street, they should consider what this word means in the sphere of arms control," she said. "Inspectors are sent in to monitor compliance with various agreements on a reciprocal and parity basis."