ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — U.S. consulate staff in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, were preparing on Friday to wind up operations after the Russian government ordered the consulate’s closure.
Russia on Thursday announced the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats, including 60 Americans, in response to mass expulsions of Russian diplomats by Western countries over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that "Russia didn’t start any diplomatic wars" and had to respond. Peskov said Russia was open to improving ties with all countries including the U.S.
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.
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."
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.