Furious Moscow demands swift return of closed US facilities

Russia on Sunday demanded the US rethink its shuttering of Moscow’s diplomatic premises, insisting Washington bore sole responsibility for worsening ties after the “hostile act”.

“We consider what has happened as an openly hostile act and a gross violation of international law by Washington,” the foreign ministry in Moscow said in a statement.

“We call on the American authorities to come to their senses and immediately return the Russian diplomatic properties or all blame for the continuing degradation in our relations lies on the US.”

Russia on Saturday was forced to vacate its consulate in San Francisco and two diplomatic buildings in New York and Washington after the US ordered the move in the latest twist of a lengthy feud.

US federal agents inspected a Russian trade mission in Washington to confirm its closure, a step that drew a fierce diplomatic protest Saturday from Moscow.

The foreign ministry said Sunday that the “US intelligence services with the support of armed police were now in charge of the seized buildings.”

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.

The recent surge in tensions between the two nuclear-armed powers was a diplomatic setback for US President Donald Trump.

During his campaign for office last year and in the early days of his presidency he promised to try to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ties had slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War after the Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The West slapped sanctions on Russia over its meddling in its ex-Soviet neighbor, sparking a revenge embargo from Moscow against agricultural products.

Last year, tensions again escalated after US intelligence accused Putin of masterminding a hacking and influence campaign to tip the presidential vote to Trump.

In the waning days of his tenure, president Barack Obama punished Russia by turfing out 35 diplomats and closing diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland.

Moscow initially held off from retaliating but when Congress passed new sanctions, the Kremlin decided to belatedly strike back and ordered the US staff cut.

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