San Francisco has one of four Russian consulates in the US, but only ours can claim to have intelligence operatives included on a list of 35 that President Obama ordered out of the country on Thursday, in retaliation for the revelation that the Russians interfered in our election. The list has not been made public, but NBC Bay Area heard from a federal source that at least two individuals on the list are based at the San Francisco consulate, with the rest based at Russia's embassy in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, the consulate has posted a note to Facebook saying they will be saying goodbye to "a dozen of our colleagues" and adding that the departures sting especially because they will happen on New Year's Eve, which is traditionally the big night of family celebration in Russia, more like Christmas is here.
President Obama issued his order Thursday, imposing economic sanctions on three Russian companies accused of being involved with hacking US computers, as well as symbolic sanctions against security and intelligence officials in the Russian government. He also ordered the 35 diplomats and operatives out of the country within 72 hours, and ordered the shutdown of two Russian-owned recreational retreats for diplomats in Maryland and New York.
The individuals ordered out are accused of "acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status," according to the State Department, and as the Chronicle says, that's just "political-speak for spying." And the paper notes, "it likely isn’t a coincidence that the diplomats sent packing come from the Russian consulate closest to the high-tech Silicon Valley."
The SF consulate's Facebook post calls Obama's move "bizarre and ridiculous," and reveals that one of those being ordered out of the US is the consulate's chef. "Coming from the historic city of Yaroslavl he is a professional cook, whose mastery was enjoyed by hundreds of our guests at the Consulate for three years. He will be leaving with his wife and two-year old son."
But chef as cover for a spy? That's not a terrible idea. Just sayin.
Multiple SF news outlets including ABC 7 swarmed the Russian consulate at 2790 Green Street on Thursday, only to be rebuffed by multiple employees there, including one who simply said, before getting in his car, "This is an unfortunate step by the outgoing administration."
NBC Bay Area notes that a black Lexus with a US seal was parked outside the consulate Thursday at noon, and several other vehicles with the same seal appeared in the afternoon.
Only one person spoke openly to reporters outside the consulate, and that was tech journalist Olga Chervayakova who brought her mother there to pick up her pension. She said of our two countries, "I think we should be friends. While we’re in America, we should learn from each other.” And regarding the hacking and election interference allegations, she said, "I don’t believe gossip. Give me the facts."
A full report on the State Department and intelligence agency findings is expected within weeks.
Russia has vowed to retaliate against Obama's retaliation, but today Vladimir Putin said he would not do so with a tit-for-tat ousting of any US diplomats in Russia.
The Chronicle discusses how US diplomats have been feeling increasingly harassed or threatened in Russia, however, likely in response to the 2014 sanctions by Western nations related to Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territory in Crimea. That harassment has included reports of house break-ins, and in one instance, the alleged killing of a diplomat's dog.
Meanwhile, there's now a theory, based on trips Trump took to Russia in 1987, suggesting Donald Trump has been a sleeper agent for the KGB for decades. And this was the reaction of the Russian embassy in the UK.
President Obama expels 35 🇷🇺 diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl 🇺🇸 people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm. pic.twitter.com/mleqA16H8D— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) December 29, 2016
* This post has been updated to include the information from the consulate's Facebook post.