The Cable

Alleging ‘Barbaric Acts,’ Russia Hires U.S. Law Firm to Deal With Diplomatic Row

Also, two U.S. consulates are losing their parking spaces.

russia law

Russia plans to hire an as yet unspecified prominent U.S. law firm to represent its interests — and its diplomatic property — in court, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax on Wednesday.

“I believe that fundamental preparations of both parties are an unalienable element of any legal action and an imperative. This is what we will be doing in cooperation with an acclaimed U.S. law firm,” Ryabkov said. He also noted that the firm would be “authoritative and serious” and that the decision as to which firm, exactly, Russia will be using will be made “soon enough.”

The U.S. State Department announced Aug. 31 that Russia must close its general consulate in San Francisco, in addition to a consular annex in New York and a chancery annex in Washington, D.C. (Staff in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. followed the announcement with bonfires.)

This was after Russia, in July, ordered the United States to get its diplomatic staff down from 755 to 455 and close two compounds — which was itself a response to the U.S. seizure of two Russian compounds and expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats.

Both sides insist they are acting in the “spirit of parity.” While the United States maintains it is acting in accordance with Vienna Convention, Russia insists U.S. actions are a breach of the Vienna Convention, as well as U.S. and international law, and so plans to take the United States to court.

“We realize it would be very hard to achieve the needed and only correct decision in our favor, considering that U.S. government lawyers are shrewd and must have considered every implication before the United States took the step with their approval,” Ryabkov said in the Interfax interview.

Upping the ante, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that Washington had committed “barbaric acts” on Russian territory in the United States. She did not specify what those acts were, however.

The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. did not immediately respond to request for comment. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow directed FP to the U.S. State Department, which said through a spokesperson, “We will not speculate on any potential Russian actions. We are confident in the legality of the actions we announced in August. As we have said, our actions brought us closer to Russia’s stated goal of parity, so there should be no need for any further actions from either side.”

Also on Wednesday, Russia announced it would be taking away diplomatic parking spots for U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. According to Russian newspaper RBC, those spaces had been painted over with a pedestrian crossing.

Update, Sept. 13 2017, 4:27 pm ET: This piece was updated to include comment from the U.S. State Department.

Photo credit: ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a foreign affairs reporter at BuzzFeed. She was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2016-2018. @emilyctamkin

Amie Ferris-Rotman is Foreign Policy's Moscow correspondent.

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