- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2017

Fire or smoke was reported at either of Russia’s compounds in Washington and San Francisco on their eve of their shuttering Saturday as tensions worsen between the White House and Kremlin.

Flames burned behind a Russian diplomatic building in Washington on Friday amid reports of dark smoke bellowing thousands of miles away from the chimney of Moscow’s consulate in San Francisco as both facilities prepared to shutter Saturday per order of the State Department.

In the nation’s capital, smoke and fire were both visible Friday afternoon behind the Trade Representative of the Russian Federation, Foreign Policy first reported.

Across the country, meanwhile, Russia’s San Francisco Consulate General spurred speculation Friday when its chimney began suddenly emitting black smoke hours before this weekend’s deadline.

The spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said that the “emergency conservation of the building” had resulted in a “wisp of smoke.”

“Measures are being taken to preserve the building,” she wrote on Facebook. “Therefore the windows may be closed, the curtains may be lowered, the light may be turned off, the doors may be locked, garbage may be disposed of, heating devices may be switched off, life support systems switched on and much more.”

At least one member of Congress wasn’t convinced, however.

“If there ever was doubt that espionage was going on in the SF consulate, black smoke clears the air on the issue,” Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, wrote Friday.

The Trump administration ordered Russia this week to vacate both buildings amid an ongoing tit-for-tat battle that has continued to escalate ever since the U.S. intelligence community blamed Moscow with interfering in last year’s White House race and retaliated by seizing compounds last December in Long Island and Maryland weeks before the current president took office. Moscow most recently ordered the U.S. to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia in half last month, and on Thursday the Trump administration responded by taking aim at the California and D.C. facilities, as well as a New York City annex.

Russia will no longer be permitted to use these facilities for diplomatic, consular or residential purposes,” the State Department said Friday. “Public operations at the consulate in San Francisco must cease by September 2.”

In Russia, meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry summoned a U.S. diplomat Saturday to relay a note of protest “in connection with the intention of the U.S. authorities to search the Trade Representation of the Russian Federation in Washington,” according to the agency.

“The note stressed that we are considering a planned illegitimate search of diplomatic premises in Russia without the presence of Russian officials and a threat to crack the front door as an unprecedented, aggressive action that can also be used by the U.S. special services to organize an anti-Russian provocation using planted compromising objects,” the ministry said.

“The U.S. authorities must stop the gross violations of international law and breaching the immunity of Russia’s diplomatic institutions. Otherwise, we reserve the right to reciprocate on mutual basis.”

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