Russia May Demand US Cut Diplomatic Staff

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks at a news conference at the Russian Embassy in Washington. Reuters file

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks at a news conference at the Russian Embassy in Washington. Reuters file

Moscow has lodged a protest with Washington, accusing United States officials of tearing down Russian flags from two of its diplomatic missions in the country, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

The state-run TASS news agency quoted an unnamed State Department official as saying that the flags were removed with due respect to state symbols and are safely stored inside each of the seized buildings.

"A strong protest was sent to the American side in relation to Russian flags being torn down at our diplomatic properties in San Francisco, which are under the control of USA authorities", Russian news agencies quoted the embassy as saying in a statement.

"The Russian side will decide on retaliatory measures", Zakharova said.

"I really do not rule out a scenario in which Russia, in reply to the United States law tightening the anti-Russian sanctions and absolutely unlawful actions targeting our diplomatic property, apart from all measures taken on the diplomatic level could develop a special draft law", TASS quoted Leonid Slutsky as saying on Thursday. He also said that the Russian parliament already had experience with a "legislative response" to unfriendly actions of other nations, such as with the 2012 Dima Yakovlev law banning the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens or by proxy of USA organizations, and introducing asset freezes and entry bans targeting particular United States officials who had violated the rights of Russian citizens.

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The statement came following warnings by Russian officials of their intention to respond to the September shutdown of Russian diplomatic missions across the United States, including its consulate in the west coast city of San Francisco.

In July, Moscow ordered the United States to cut the number of its diplomatic and technical staff working in Russian Federation by around 60%, to 455, part of a diplomatic row, Reuters reported. The demand followed a vote to tighten sanctions on Russian Federation.

Earlier Russia's envoy to Washington Anatoly Antonov said he had sent a "decisive protest" to the U.S. over the removed flags.

Russian Federation considers such a move as an "extremely unfriendly step", and demands an immediate return of the flags, the embassy added.

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