(Vatican Radio) Russia has summoned a top United States diplomat in Moscow to protest against a search by American officials of a Russian trade mission building in Washington. The protest came amid the worst tensions since the Cold War after the U.S. State Department announced that it would require Russia to shut complexes - in Washington, New York, and San Francisco by last Saturday.
Listen to Stefan Bos' report:
Russia's Foreign Ministry said it summoned Anthony F. Godfrey, a deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, to hand him a note of protest over searches in especially Russia's trade mission complex in Washington.
The closure of the Russian consulate in San Francisco and buildings in Washington and New York that house Russian trade missions
is the latest in a series of retaliation actions by the two superpowers, pushing relations to a new post-Cold War low.
Black smoke was seen Friday billowing from a chimney at the Russian consulate in San Francisco, as Russian officials were apparently burning sensitive documents ahead of their forced departure.
The Russian Foreign Ministry complained about what it said was the "illegal inspection" of Russian diplomatic housing, calling it an "unprecedented aggressive action," which could be used by U.S. special services for "anti-Russian provocations" by the way of "planting compromised items."
That anger was shared in the U.S. Russia's Trade Representative with the United States, Alexander Stadnik, expressed his frustration to reporters on the closure of the Russian Consulate General in San Francisco. He called the order by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump a "vivid example of vandalism in the system of international relations."
But the State Department denied wrongdoing. It also said personnel from the Russian Embassy joined State Department officials for walkthroughs of the three properties so the U.S. could verify the Russians had vacated ahead of the Saturday deadline.
It added that it was untrue that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is "clearing the premises."
However American officials could be seen inspecting buildings, including the Russian consulate in San Francisco.
The U.S. move came after Moscow last month ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people to match the number of Russian diplomats in the United States. That was in retaliation for a decision by the U.S. Congress to overwhelmingly approve new sanctions against Russia over its alleged meddling in the recent presidential election.
U.S.-backed international sanctions are also in place for Russia's involvement in Ukraine where it annexed the Crimean Peninsula. And, the West has also accused Russia of supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and troops, charges Moscow denies.