Black smoke could be seen billowing out of a chimney at the Russian consulate in San Francisco on Friday, a day before the Russian government will be forced to vacate the facility.
A Russian official told CNN: “No need to worry. They are not electing a Pope.”
In response to enforced staff cuts at the US mission in Russia, the State Department announced on Thursday it would require Russia to close the San Francisco Consulate General, as well as annexes in DC and New York.
“Russia will no longer be permitted to use these facilities for diplomatic, consular or residential purposes,” a State Department official told CNN on Friday. “Public operations at the consulate in San Francisco must cease by September 2. The facilities will be closed and entry or access to the properties will be granted only with permission of the Department of State. The State Department will secure and maintain the properties in keeping with our responsibilities.”
The San Francisco Fire Department posted on social media about the incident, tweeting that “everything is okay.”
California Rep. Jackie Speier also tweeted about the scene.
“If there ever was doubt that espionage was going on in the SF consulate, black smoke clears the air on the issue,” she wrote Friday afternoon.
The abrupt facility closure is just the latest in a series of tense diplomatic moves between the two nations, following reports last year that Russia interfered in the US’ 2016 elections.
The decision to close the facilities was made by President Donald Trump, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. The decision followed Russia reducing the size of the US mission in the country.
“We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement about Russia’s move.