NEW YORK, March 29. /TASS/. Employees of the Russian consulate general in Seattle, which is to be closed over the so-called Skripal poisoning incident, are not going to remove the Russian flag from the mission’s official residence, Russian Consul General in that city Khalit Aisin told TASS on Wednesday.
"We are not going to remove it," he stressed.
"We are to leave the residence by 23:59 local time on April 24 (09:59 a.m. Moscow time on April 25)," he said. "We must leave the building in our property by that time. The residence of the consul general in Seattle enjoys a diplomatic status, it is our property. The situation is like the one after the American authorities’ decision to close Russia’s consulate general in San Francisco."
"Now we have a whole lot to do," Aisin said. "When Russian nationals living in the United States learnt about the closure of the consulate general, those who have been hesitating or postponing their visits are now here. On Tuesday, the number of visitors neared 300. People were standing in line from nine in the morning till five p.m. We will be issuing documents till five a.m. on Friday, March 30."
In his words, all documents from the consulate general will be taken to the embassy in Washington.
"From now on, Russians will be able to receive consular services either at the consular department of the Russian embassy in Washington or at consulates general in New York or Houston," he added.
On March 26, Washington announced its decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats, including 48 embassy staff and 12 members of Russia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations. Apart from that, it said Russia’s Consulate General in Seattle would be closed. Another 24 European countries, along with Canada and Australia, likewise decided to expel Russian diplomats (a total of 62 people). NATO has reduced the staff of Russia’s mission from 30 to 20 people, while the European Union recalled its ambassador to Russia for consultations. Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia and now Portugal have followed suit. London earlier expelled 23 Russian diplomats (Moscow responded by expelling the same number of British diplomats).
The move was prompted by the incident involving the alleged poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal who had been convicted in Russia of spying for Great Britain and was later swapped for Russian intelligence officers. On March 4, Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench near the Maltings shopping center in Salisbury, the UK. Police said they had allegedly been exposed to a nerve agent. Both are in the hospital in critical condition.
London immediately accused Russia of being involved, but failed to produce any evidence. UK Prime Minister Theresa May rushed to blame Russia for "unlawful use of force" against her country. She identified the alleged substance used in the attack as the so-called Novichok nerve agent, allegedly developed in the former Soviet Union. Russia has flatly rejected these allegations pointing out that neither the Soviet Union nor Russia had any programs to develop that substance.
Moscow flatly rejects its involvement in the Salisbury incident.