President Donald Trump has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and the closure of the Russian consulate here in Seattle.
The decision by the president is in 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.
“The United States takes this action in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world,” according to a March 26 statement issued by Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The Washington Post reports the Trump administration’s order means the expulsion of 12 Russian diplomats at the United Nations in New York and 48 at the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
The decision to close the Seattle consulate was based on “its proximity to one of our submarine bases and Boeing,” according to Huckabee’s statement. The consulate reportedly has until April 2 to shut down operations at its office at 600 University St.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement following the decision by the United States and several European Union and NATO member countries to expel Russian diplomats, stating it does not meet the task of finding the perpetrators of the March 4 attack.
“Pulling out indiscriminate accusations against the Russian Federation in the absence of explanations of what happened and refusing to engage in substantive interaction, the British authorities de facto took a prejudiced, biased and hypocritical stance,” the Russian Foreign Ministry states.
The statement does not specifically address the pending closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.
“It goes without saying that this unfriendly step of this group of countries will not pass without a trace and we will react to it,” the statement reads.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a statement on the decision, criticizing the Trump administration for not acting more quickly.
“The real question is why it takes so long to stand with our allies and take action against a government who continues to threaten and undermine our democracy,” Durkan’s statement reads. “When Seattle was previously targeted by Russian hackers, we acted and brought Roman Seleznev to justice. Attacks from Russian intelligence, including interference in the 2016 election, need to be met with aggressive enforcement against those who participate or cooperate.”
Seleznev is a Russian cybercriminal who stole more than 1.7 million credit card numbers, including from businesses hacked here in Seattle. He was sentenced to 27 years in prison in April 2017. U.S. authorities had negotiated with the Maldivian government to secure his capture, and he was brought to Washington to stand trial.
“Today’s actions make the United States safer by reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security,” Huckabee’s March 26 statement concludes. “With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences. The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior.”
Washington 7th Congressional District Rep. Pramila Jayapal also weighed in on the White House’s announcement, calling the actions a “small step in holding Russian accountable.”
“However, this action is almost ironic, given the president is dragging his feet to do anything against Putin or Russia for interfering in the 2016 election – taking months to implement the bipartisan sanctions that passed through Congress last year,” Jayapal states. “Seventeen intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in our elections. Yet, this president refuses to lift a finger to protect our elections from Russian interference.
“Our adversaries like Russia need to know that we won’t sit idly by as they attack and interfere in our Democratic process. Unfortunately, Donald Trump doesn’t have the spine to stand up to Putin. Instead of taking swift action against Putin, Trump continues to buddy up to him, congratulating the Russian president on election victories and showering him with praise. We approved $380 million dollars in the budget for election security. Since Trump refuses to act, it’s up to Congress to make concrete change.”
The Consulate General of the Russian Federation resides in Madison Park, at the Samuel Hyde House, 3726 E. Madison St. The Madison Park Times did not witness much activity around the residence on Monday morning, March 26, and it is unclear what will happen with the property, which is owned by the U.S. government and managed by the State Department.
A State Department spokesperson tells the Madison Park Times that the United States has withdrawn its consent for Russia’s consular post, and Russian diplomats will be expelled by April 2. The Russians have until April 25 to close their diplomatic residence, according to the spokesperson, at which point the properties “will no longer enjoy diplomatic status or protections.”
Diplomatic Security will walk through the properties to ensure the Russians have vacated, and will invite Russian representatives to accompany them.
The United States purchased the historic Madison Park property from Edward and Pamela Blecksmith for $1.1 million in 1994. The King County Assessor’s Office appraised the property at $3.85 million in 2017.
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. It received Seattle landmark status in 1981, and was granted certain controls in February 1994, prior to its sale to the U.S. government.