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Moscow slams US over consulate closure as fires burn in San Francisco

Moscow has accused the US of a "gross violation of international law" after being given two days to shut a Russian diplomatic outpost in San Francisco. The departing Russians burnt papers as the clock ticked down.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow would "reply with firmness" to the forced closure of the diplomatic post, but also "needed time to study Washington's directive" and to decide on a response.

"We will have a tough response to the things that come totally out of the blue to hurt us and are driven solely by the desire to spoil our relations with the US," Lavrov said in a televised meeting.

President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, added that Russia needs to "think carefully about how we could respond."

"One does not want to go into a frenzy because someone has to be reasonable and stop," Ushakov said.

Sergey Lavrov gestures during a speech (Reuters/S. Karpukhin)

Lavrov promised an appropriate response to the consulate's forced closure

The measure is the most serious by the US against Russia since 1986, when the two powers expelled dozens of each other's diplomats. US-Russia ties have fallen to their lowest point since the Cold War after the Kremlin's invasion of Crimea in 2014.

Where there's smoke, there's fire

Black smoke was seen coming out of the chimney on Friday at the San Francisco consulate, one of three Russian facilities being closed, the others trade missions in New York and Washington.

The Russian Embassy in Washington is not affected, nor are three other Russian consulates in the US, including in New York.

Firefighters who arrived at the scene were turned away by consulate officials who came from inside the building.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Friday that US "special services" intend to search the consulate on Saturday, as well as apartments in San Francisco used by Russian diplomats and their families, a claim the State Department denied.

Tit-for-tat

The Trump administration has said the order is retaliation for the Kremlin's "unwarranted and detrimental" demand in August that the US cut the size of its diplomatic staff in Russia.

Moscow, in turn, said its call for cuts are a reaction to new sanctions that Trump signed into law in July.

US counterintelligence officials have long kept an eye on Russia's outpost in San Francisco, concerned that people posted to the consulate as diplomats were engaged in espionage.

Last December, President Barack Obama kicked out dozens of Russian officials and closed two Russian recreational compounds.

jbh/sms (AP, AFP)

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