The Department of State made the announcement in response to Moscow’s decision to reduce the number of employees at American diplomatic headquarters in Russia. The diplomatic structures of the Kremlin in Washington and New York will also be reduced.
With very short warning, the Department of State ordered the closure of three Russian diplomatic headquarters. The most important among them is the Russian consulate in San Francisco; the other two are branches of the embassy in Washington and the Consulate General in New York. The eviction will be effective from Saturday, Sept. 2. This is the latest American response to Vladimir Putin’s decision to expel 755 American “diplomats” or Russian employees of U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia. Heather Nauert, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, has stated today that “this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries.” It was in the spirit of “parity” that the U.S. Department of State announced its retaliation through the eviction of the Russian missions. At this point, the respective consular offices of the two countries are down to a minimum, only three each. There is still a slight imbalance in Russia’s favor, which goes to demonstrate that the Trump administration decided not to rub salt into the wound. This American government is de facto “undergoing” rather than managing the war of sanctions.
The Russian reaction came quickly. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called his counterpart Rex Tillerson to convey all his “regret” over the escalation of tensions that, according to him, “were not started by us.” “Moscow will closely study the new measures announced by the Americans, after which our reaction will be conveyed,” he declared.
There is a subtle irony behind the closure of the Russian consulate in San Francisco ordered by the Department of State. The issue started with a Russian hacker story and it ends – for now – with the closure of the consulate building from which Putin “watches” Silicon Valley … Moreover, Northern California has an old history of Russian presence from the times of the czars. Today, the region attracts the brains drained from the great Russian universities, and one of Google’s founders, Sergey Brin, is from Russia. The same goes for many computer technicians, scientists and researchers, among whom it is reasonable to expect a percentage of spies.
The consulate’s closure is just the latest, but not the last, twist in this matter. It is a contest of retaliation that started when Congress voted in favor of new economic sanctions against Russia to punish it for its interference in the American election campaign, i.e., the anti-Hillary maneuvers from which the “Russiagate” scandal originated. That congressional vote tied the hands of Donald Trump, who had begun a trial run for a thaw with Putin. Now the president is no longer free to make whichever decision he pleases on the issue of sanctions; the new congressional law has removed that instrument from his grasp. This was also a blow for the Nord Stream 2 project, which is of strategic interest for Russia, as well as for Germany. Putin reacted by ordering the expulsion of 755 American diplomats or employees of their embassies and consulates in Russia. Washington is doing the same and the closure at San Francisco fits into this game of cross revenge. There is once again a cold war climate between the two superpowers, as also shown by the rearmament signals on both sides: the great military maneuvers of the Red Army at the borders of Eastern Europe; and the massive American investments to modernize its nuclear arsenals.
Trump is the spectator at a game that has slipped out of his control. The “Russiagate” investigation is pressing on him, and special counsel Robert Mueller continues to back the president’s family and business entourage into a corner. The sanctions on Russia are the price imposed on the president by a conservative establishment – people from the military, intelligence and diplomatic communities – that has never been and does not intend to become pro-Russian.