The U.S. State Department said Saturday that it had seized control of three diplomatic posts vacated by Russia at the request of the U.S. government.
In an email Saturday, a State Department official said the posts were inspected in walk-throughs with Russian officials, and not forcibly searched as implied in a statement by Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
The Kremlin has accused Washington of bullying tactics and claimed that FBI officials threatened to break down the door to one of the facilities.
The emailed statement from the U.S. official said the inspections were meant only to “secure and protect the facilities and to confirm that the Russian government had vacated the premises.”
The statement was sent to reporters on condition of anonymity.
Earlier Saturday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Anthony Godfrey, a deputy chief at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, over the planned “illegal inspection” of a Russian diplomatic building in Washington.
The Russians called the planned inspection an “unprecedented aggressive action” and said U.S. authorities might use it as an opportunity for “planting compromised items” in the Russian compound.
The compound in Washington was one of three that were shuttered as the U.S. and Russia have engaged in a diplomatic tit-for-tat over the past several months. The other two diplomatic buildings ordered closed are in San Francisco and New York.
A spokeswoman for the ministry, Maria Zakharova, said the searches would “create a direct threat to the security of Russian citizens.”
Zakharova said in a statement Friday, “American special services intend on September 2 to carry out a search of the consulate in San Francisco, including of the apartments of employees who live in the building and have [diplomatic] immunity.”
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that firefighters were called to the site of the consulate, but were not allowed to enter, after black smoke was seen billowing from a chimney. Firefighters determined that the fire was confined to a fireplace somewhere in the building.
A spokeswoman for the San Francisco Fire Department, Mindy Talmadge, told reporters she did not know what people inside the building would be burning on a day when the outdoor temperature was around 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).
According to a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, the smoke came as part of efforts to “preserve the building” at a time when officials were gearing up to leave.
The move to close the buildings came in response to a demand from Moscow that Washington reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia.
“In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian government to close its Consulate General in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Thursday, adding that the deadline for the closures was September 2.