State Department takes control of Russian consular's residence

Russian official says 'a sad day for Russian-American relations'

State Department takes control of Russian consular's residence

State Department takes control of Russian consular's residence

The U.S. State Department took control of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation’s Madison Park mansion on Wednesday, April 25, in what Head of the Consular Division of the Embassy of the Russian Federation Nikolay Pukalov called “a sad day for Russian-American relations.”

The exit of Consulate General Valeriy Timashov, his family and staff from the residence at 3726 E. Madison St. was required to occur by April 25, following an order by President Donald Trump on March 26 that included the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle and expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the U.S.

This was a response to the March 4 chemical attack of former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, which is being blamed on the Russian government.

Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wrote in a March 26 news release that the decision to close the Seattle consulate was based on “its proximity to one of our submarine bases and Boeing.”

Pukalov, who observed State Department officials as they inspected the Madison Park residence, denied such claims by the Trump administration.

“That’s totally untrue,” he said, “because, again, the consulate serves to promote good bilateral relations.”

An email from a State Department official states the Russian government owns the residence and the United States owns the land it sits on.

“In accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the United States withdrew its consent for the establishment and operation of Russia’s consular post in Seattle by April 1, 2018,” the email states.

Pukalov said the consulate general has returned to Russia, while some staffers were reassigned to the remaining two consulates in New York and Houston. All residents had vacated the property by 11 a.m. Tuesday, he said.

“They removed the lock from the front gate,” Pukalov said. “They got inside and unlawfully penetrated into the territory.”

Pukalov said the diplomatic residence is considered Russian soil by his government, and the State Department taking it over is a violation of domestic and international law.

“We will use any legal means to fight against these unlawful actions,” Pukalov said, adding it’s too early to say what action the Russian government might take in retaliation.

Pukalov also presided over the U.S. government’s closure of the Russian consular residence in San Francisco in fall 2017.

The Russian government closed the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg and expelled 60 diplomats after the Trump administration ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and closure of the consulate in Seattle on March 26.

State Department officials coming in and out of the Madison Park residence — some wearing blue latex gloves — on April 25 declined to answer journalists’ questions, but one official who identified himself as the resident agent in charge of the Seattle office confirmed that the agency’s plans currently are simply to maintain the property.

A Seattle landmark that is also on the National Register of Historic Places, the two-story neo-classical home was constructed in 1909-10 and originally owned by Samuel Hyde, a liquor entrepreneur. The Hyde House received Seattle landmark status in 1981, and was granted certain controls in February 1994.

Madison Park Community Council president Karen Kane said during the group’s April meeting that she is attempting to find out more information about the property’s future, as the landmark is an important part of the neighborhood and its history.

U.S.-Russian relations have only been strained more since the order to close the consulate, with Moscow backing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and pledging to provide it with the latest missile defense systems following a joint air strike by the United States, France and Britain over a suspected chemical attack in Douma on April 7. Targets were suspected chemical weapons facilities.