U.S. consulate staff in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, have been seen clearing out the building after the government ordered the consulate’s closure.
Staff and security guards were spotted carrying out boxes and furniture as passers-by cheered them on, calling for the Americans to ‘get out of here’.
The closure is part of Russia’s mass-expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, 60 of them Americans, in a like-for-like response to expulsions all over the world in response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the UK.
Security personnel carry pieces of furniture out of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia
Skripal, a Russian former double agent, and his daughter Yulia are thought to have been poisoned from a nerve agent being smeared on the front door of his house in Salibury, Wiltshire.
Russia is widely thought to be behind the attack, and after the UK threw out 23 Russian diplomats, other nations followed.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that ‘Russia didn’t start any diplomatic wars’ and had to respond.
As well as throwing out American diplomats, Russia also ordered the closure of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg in response to the U.S. announcement to shut the Russian consulate in Seattle.
A man carries boxes out from the U.S. consulate as a Russian police officer guards the entrance, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday
A van leaves the U.S. consulate in St.Petersburg after the government ordered its closure in the wake of the global expulsion of Russian diplomats
Russia announced the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, including 60 Americans, on Thursday and said it was closing a U.S. consulate in retaliation for the wave of Western expulsions of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter in Britain
An Associated Press reporter on Friday saw consulate staff carrying boxes from the building and loading them into a van.
Several mini-vans drove out of the consulate while security also detained a man who threw a Starbucks cup at the building.
Some of the passers-by near the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg cheered the expulsions.
‘Let them get out of here,’ said 61-year-old pensioner Viktor Fedin. ‘You won’t put Russia on its knees.’
The U.S. flag flies at the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday,
Others were more cautious, worried that the closures would affect visa processing for Russians.
‘The Russian government has to respond to the hostile actions against Russia,’ said 32-year-old researcher Yelena Bogomazova.
‘But the escalation is bad. The closure of the consulate will make it difficult for people to get U.S. visas, they will have to go to Moscow.’
After Russia expelled several dozens of U.S. diplomats, the waiting list for U.S. visa applications in Russia has increased to weeks if not months. The U.S. embassy said it was unable to process visa applications faster because of the staff shortage.