Russia Protests Flag Removal at Seized San Francisco Consulate

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Moscow has lodged a protest with Washington, accusing USA officials of tearing down Russian flags from two of its diplomatic missions in the country, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

The development came two days after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his American counterpart, Rex Tillerson, that the Russian diplomatic properties had been "illegally seized" by the USA government, demanding their return to Moscow's embassy in Washington. "They touched our national symbols with their hands", Russia's Trade Representative to the United States Alexander Stadnik said.

"The flags at the former Russian consular properties in San Francisco were respectfully lowered and are safely stored within each of the buildings", the official said on Wednesday.

"I really do not rule out a scenario in which Russia, in reply to the U.S. law tightening the anti-Russian sanctions and absolutely unlawful actions targeting our diplomatic property, apart from all measures taken on the diplomatic level could develop a special draft law", TASS quoted Leonid Slutsky as saying on Thursday.

"The Russian side will decide on retaliatory measures", Zakharova said.

"Such steps only complicate US-Russian dialogue", he said in televised remarks.

In July, Moscow told the United States to slash the number of its diplomatic and technical staff working in Russian Federation by around 60 percent, to 455, in a further sign of souring relations.

Russia protested to the United States on October 11 over a claim that Russian flags were "stolen" from its vacated consulate in San Francisco, a charge immediately disputed by the U.S. State Department.

The Russian Embassy in Washington has forwarded an official protest to the U.S. authorities with a demand to return Russian state symbols to their flag poles.

The West slapped punishing sanctions on Russian Federation over its meddling in its ex-Soviet neighbour, sparking a revenge embargo from Moscow against agricultural products.

A U.S. Department of State official told Sputnik that Russian flags were "respectfully" lowered by USA officials at former Russian properties in Washington, DC and San Francisco, when the buildings were closed.

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