Expelled Russian, US envoys depart


Associated Press

MOSCOW

Russian diplomats and their families climbed aboard buses and left their embassy in Washington on Saturday, while across the Atlantic, American envoys took down the flag from outside the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, loaded up boxes, closed the office and headed home.

The moves were the latest in a spy poisoning case that has escalated East-West tensions, with both sides expelling more than 150 of each other’s diplomats from two dozen countries.

Britain has insisted that the Russian government was behind the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter March 4 in the English city of Salisbury, a charge the Russians vehemently deny.

The Tass news agency said all of the 60 Russian diplomats ordered out of the United States were heading for a homebound flight Saturday night.

In St. Petersburg, workers at the U.S. consulate hurried to meet the Saturday deadline to close the consulate, imposed by Russia just two days earlier. In brief comments to reporters, U.S. Consul-General Thomas Leary said, “We are ready to leave.”

A truck with bags and boxes left the consulate in the late afternoon, its driver waving and honking his horn several times. Outside the elegant 19th-century building, someone had placed four yellow tulips and a card from neighbors reading “hope to see you again.”

City workers came to inspect the building late Saturday, but it was not clear if all the staff had departed.

Russians watching the activity expressed mixed views on the consulate’s closure.

“The American side always knows that we can strike back if we are attacked,” said Valentina Petrova, 77.

But 24-year-old Artem Zykov saw it differently.

“Russia should have found different mechanisms to respond without such radical measures,” Zykov said.

British officials, meanwhile, said Saturday the government is considering Russia’s request for access to the daughter of the former Russian double agent.

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