Trump orders Russia to shutter San Francisco consulate, two annexes

The Trump administration is ordering Russia to shutter a consulate in San Francisco as well as annexes in Washington and New York, the State Department announced Thursday. 

According to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, the move was positioned as a response "in the spirit of parity" to the Russian government's order that the U.S. cut down the number of diplomatic personnel in Russia, which she described as "unwarranted and detrimental."

Moscow is ordered to close the facilities, which include the consulate and two trade annexes, by Saturday. 

"The United States has fully implemented the decision by the Government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia," Nauert said. "We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries."

Speaking to reporters following the announcement, a senior administration official emphasized that Washington's ultimate goal is to improve relations with Moscow, not further damage them. 

"Our goal is really to find a way to get to better relations between our two countries," the official said. 

But Russia immediately reacted negatively, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accusing the U.S. of escalating tensions and a Kremlin spokesperson promising retaliation.

"We regret the unconstructive stance taken by our counterparts in the United States and, of course, we cannot afford to leave unfriendly, and sometimes hostile steps towards us without retaliation," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian state news agency TASS

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonOvernight Regulation: Trump adviser affirms plans to leave climate deal | FDA to study new cigarette warning labels | DOJ investigating Equifax stock sales Top US security official targeted in Cuba Embassy covert attacks: report Trump adviser tells foreign officials no change on Paris climate deal MORE informed Lavrov that the U.S. had complied with Russia's order and is now moving to close the diplomatic and consular facilities in a phone call Thursday, the administration official said. 

President Trump has repeatedly voiced a desire for better relations with Moscow, most recently on Monday--though the latest move could make achieving that more difficult. 

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders addressed the decision at a briefing later Thursday, saying that it was Trump's decision to close the properties. 

She declined, however, to say that U.S.-Russia relations were at their lowest point since the Cold War and emphasized a willingness by the administration to work toward warmer relations with Moscow. 

"We've taken a firm and measured action in response to Russia's unfortunate decision earlier this year, and we want to halt the downward spiral and we want to move forward towards better relations," Sanders said. 

"But we're also going to make sure that we make decisions that are best for our country," she added. 

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At the end of July, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the U.S. to reduce the number of diplomatic personnel in Russia to 455, in response to sanctions placed on Moscow over its meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The move is estimated to amount to a cut of 755 personnel. The Trump administration would not confirm that number on Thursday but said that the U.S. had reduced its personnel in Russia to 455. The U.S. was able to choose which personnel and functions to retain, the official said. 

With the move on Thursday, Russia will still have more diplomatic and consular facilities in the United States than the U.S. has in Russia. 

"With this action both countries will remain with three consulates each," Nauert said Thursday. "While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian Government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship."

"The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern," she said.

"The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted." 

While the facilities are ordered to be closed by September 2, the U.S. is not expelling any Russian personnel. Russians who work at the posts are allowed to be reassigned to other diplomatic or consular locations within the U.S.

The Kremlin's meddling in last year's presidential election is the subject of multiple ongoing congressional probes, as well as a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department. 

The intelligence community believes Russia hacked Democratic groups and leaked information with the intention of helping to get Trump in the White House.