Russia lodges protest with US after flags torn down at diplomatic missions

The Russian flag on the rooftop of the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco on Sept 2, 2017. Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russian flags "had been torn off the buildings of Russia's trade mission in Washington and
The Russian flag on the rooftop of the Consulate General of Russia in San Francisco on Sept 2, 2017. Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russian flags "had been torn off the buildings of Russia's trade mission in Washington and the general consulate in San Francisco".PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - Moscow has lodged a protest with Washington, accusing US officials of tearing down Russian flags from two of its diplomatic missions in the country, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday (Oct 12).

In late August, the United States ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco and two other installations as relations between the two former Cold War enemies took another dive.

"Yesterday, we learnt about a new... hostile act of the US authorities against our diplomatic missions," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on Thursday, warning that Moscow would retaliate.

She said Russian flags "had been torn off the buildings of Russia's trade mission in Washington and the general consulate in San Francisco", she said, Russian news agencies reported.

"Obviously the Russian side has never agreed to its flags being removed," she added, calling the removal "a violation of a Russian state symbol".

"The Russian side will decide on retaliatory measures," Ms Zakharova said.

Earlier, Russia's envoy to Washington, Mr Anatoly Antonov, said he had sent a "decisive protest" to the US over the removed flags.

"Such steps only complicate US-Russian dialogue," he said in televised remarks.

"We demand an immediate end to the takeover of our property in the US, which is accompanied by offensive actions," Mr Antonov added.

Moscow had previously accused the United States of searching its missions and diplomatic staff's accommodation.

Washington ordered the shutdown of the Russian diplomatic missions in a retaliatory move after the Kremlin demanded the US slash staff numbers at its missions in Russia.

The latest diplomatic spat is the latest twist in tortured ties between the US and Russia, which have slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War following the Kremlin's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The West slapped punishing sanctions on Russia over its meddling in its ex-Soviet neighbour, sparking a revenge embargo from Moscow against agricultural products.