US diplomats evacuated from Moscow compound
MOSCOW — Three trucks, a minibus, a jeep and a taxicab left the summerhouse of the US embassy in Moscow’s prestigious compound of Serebryany Bor in evacuation on Tuesday, as a result of escalating diplomatic tensions between the United States and Russia.
“The last two employees to leave the property hung a lock on the gates,” the RIA Novosti news agency quoted its correspondent who witnessed the departure as saying.
On Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow would suspend the use of a warehouse and the summerhouse by the US embassy staff from Aug 1, as part of retaliation to a new sanction bill passed in the US Congress and the expulsion of Russian diplomats and seizure of two Russian diplomatic properties in the US in December.
On Monday, the US embassy complained that it was denied access to the summerhouse from Sunday.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov explained on Tuesday that the problems US diplomats encountered were due to a ban on the entry by large transport vehicles to the territory of the compound.
It was not immediately clear whether the US diplomats had completed the evacuation of its Moscow warehouse, but RIA Novosti reported that most of the items kept there were shipped out last week.
Tensions between Moscow and Washington have flared up since both chambers of the US Congress approved a bill slapping tougher sanctions on Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday announced Moscow’s decision to reduce the US diplomatic staff in Russia by 755 people, including both US and Russian nationals, by Sept 1.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put the onus on Moscow on Tuesday to take steps to repair flagging relations with Washington, even as he conceded that congressional sanctions would pose a new obstacle. Holding out hope for warmer ties, Tillerson said he’d meet with his Russian counterpart within days.
“The situation is bad, but believe me it can get worse,” Tillerson said, recounting his message to Putin when they met in March. “And it just did.”
“Neither the president nor I are very happy about that,” Tillerson said of the sanctions bill. He had urged lawmakers not to proceed. “We were clear that we didn’t think that was going to be helpful to our efforts, but that’s the decision they made.”
A truck with a diplomatic license plate at a dacha compound used by US diplomats for recreation in Moscow on Tuesday.