The Russian trade mission in Washington has been closed and its staff have been barred access.
A spokesman from Russia’s US embassy said that the US State Department is leading the searches in the building. Russian diplomats were reportedly denied access to the trade mission building despite it being owned by Russia and protected by diplomatic immunity.
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Russia’s foreign ministry summoned a senior US diplomat in Moscow to hand him a note of protest over the plans to conduct searches in the trade mission complex in Washington.
The Washington office is one of three Russian facilities that the US ordered to be closed this week. The others were the San Francisco consulate and a New York trade office.
Moscow considers the inspections to be “an aggressive action,” which could also be used by US intelligence to “orchestrate an anti-Russian provocation by planting compromising items.”
Staff has been blocked from accessing the building of the trade mission in Washington starting from 14:00 local time (18:00 GMT), Russian embassy’s spokesman, Nikolay Lakhonin, told media.
Lakhonin also said the searches at Russia’s diplomatic facilities would start immediately after being closed to personnel. The operation would be carried out under the auspices of the US State Department, he added.
Russian embassy staff were allowed to be present during the search following an “insistent demand,” Lakhonin said.
The head of the Russian trade mission in the US, Aleksandr Stadnik, told journalists that he considers the searches at the two compounds as a takeover in violation of international law. He confirmed that the US authorities lifted diplomatic immunity from the trade mission compound in Washington, DC, as at 14:00 (local time) (18:00 GMT).
The trade mission would continue its work at the Russian embassy in Washington, Stadnik said.
The Trump administration ordered the closure of Russia’s consulate in San Francisco as well as the two annexes in Washington and New York on August 31.
On Friday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said the FBI was planning to search the general consulate premises, including homes of diplomatic staff, which would violate diplomatic immunity.
On Saturday, Russia summoned the deputy chief of mission of the US Embassy in Moscow to lodge a note of protest over US plans to search the Russian trade mission in Washington.