Smoke pours from Russian consulate just hours before it’s ordered to close

On Friday, as temperatures soared well into the triple digits, thick black smoke could be seen pouring out of the chimney at the San Francisco Russian consulate. According to CBS, the fire was no accident, and occurred just one day after the Trump administration ordered the consulate’s closure.

“It was not unintentional. They were burning something in their fireplace,” Mindy Talmadge, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Fire Department, told CBS.

San Francisco’s Russian consulate isn’t the only diplomatic site being shut down by the Trump administration this weekend. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, the United States is also forcing the Russian chancery annex in Washington, D.C., to shutter its doors, along with its consular annex in New York, in “the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians,” according to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

Following these closures, Nauert told the Chronicle, Russia will have three remaining consulates in the U.S. — one in Seattle, one in Houston and another Washington, D.C.

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The Russian Consulate building, where smoke was seen coming from its roof, is seen in San Francisco, California September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: San Francisco firefighters talk with workers at the Russian consulate after responding to reports of a fire in the building on September 1, 2017 in San Francisco, California. In response to a Russian government demand for the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 455, the Trump administration ordered the closure of three consular offices in the San Francisco, New York and Washington. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Black smoke billows from a chimney on top of the Russian consulate on September 1, 2017 in San Francisco, California. In response to a Russian government demand for the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 455, the Trump administration ordered the closure of three consular offices in the San Francisco, New York and Washington. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A sign is seen on Russian Consulate building, where smoke was seen earlier coming from its roof, in San Francisco, California, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: People wait in line to enter the Russian consulate on September 1, 2017 in San Francisco, California. In response to a Russian government demand for the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 455, the Trump administration ordered the closure of three consular offices in the San Francisco, New York and Washington. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The roof of the Russian Consulate building, where smoke was seen coming from earlier, is seen in San Francisco, California, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 31: A view of the Russian consulate on August 31, 2017 in San Francisco, California. In response to a Russian government demand for the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 455, the Trump administration ordered the closure of three consular offices in the San Francisco, New York and Washington. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Black smoke billows from a chimney on top of the Russian consulate on September 1, 2017 in San Francisco, California. In response to a Russian government demand for the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 455, the Trump administration ordered the closure of three consular offices in the San Francisco, New York and Washington. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: A woman leaves the Russian consulate on September 1, 2017 in San Francisco, California. In response to a Russian government demand for the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 455, the Trump administration ordered the closure of three consular offices in the San Francisco, New York and Washington. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, USA - AUGUST 31 : A Russian flag waves on top of Consulate General Of The Russian Federation building as the consulate readies itself for closure in San Francisco, United States on August 31, 2017. The Trump administration ordered Russia to close it's consulate in San Francisco, and two annexes in New York and Washington in response to a Russian order that the United States cut it's diplomatic staff in Moscow. (Photo by Philip Pacheco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Black smoke billows from a chimney on top of the Russian consulate on September 1, 2017 in San Francisco, California. In response to a Russian government demand for the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 455, the Trump administration ordered the closure of three consular offices in the San Francisco, New York and Washington. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A Closed sign is seen on the Russian Consulate building, where smoke was seen earlier coming from its roof, in San Francisco, California, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 01: Black smoke billows from a chimney on top of the Russian consulate on September 1, 2017 in San Francisco, California. In response to a Russian government demand for the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia by 455, the Trump administration ordered the closure of three consular offices in the San Francisco, New York and Washington. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, USA - AUGUST 31 : People gather outside the Russian consulate passport office as consulate readies itself for closure in San Francisco, United States on August 31, 2017. The Trump administration ordered Russia to close it's consulate in San Francisco, and two annexes in New York and Washington in response to a Russian order that the United States cut it's diplomatic staff in Moscow. (Photo by Philip Pacheco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, USA - AUGUST 31 : A Russian flag waves on top of Consulate General Of The Russian Federation building as the consulate readies itself for closure in San Francisco, United States on August 31, 2017. The Trump administration ordered Russia to close it's consulate in San Francisco, and two annexes in New York and Washington in response to a Russian order that the United States cut it's diplomatic staff in Moscow. (Photo by Philip Pacheco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, USA - AUGUST 31 : A Russian consulate official waits to allow people into the passport office after the Trump administration ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in San Francisco, United States on August 31, 2017. The Trump administration ordered Russia to close it's consulate in San Francisco, and two annexes in New York and Washington in response to a Russian order that the United States cut it's diplomatic staff in Moscow. (Photo by Philip Pacheco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, USA - AUGUST 31 : A woman speaks with an official after picking up her United States passport at the Consulate General Of The Russian Federation building as the consulate readies itself for closure in San Francisco, United States on August 31, 2017. The Trump administration ordered Russia to close it's consulate in San Francisco, and two annexes in New York and Washington in response to a Russian order that the United States cut it's diplomatic staff in Moscow. (Photo by Philip Pacheco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, USA - AUGUST 31 : A staff of Consulate General Of The Russian Federation carries boxes as the consulate readies itself for closure in San Francisco, United States on August 31, 2017. The Trump administration ordered Russia to close it's consulate in San Francisco, and two annexes in New York and Washington in response to a Russian order that the United States cut it's diplomatic staff in Moscow. (Photo by Philip Pacheco/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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“While there will continue to be a disparity in the number of diplomatic and consular annexes, we have chosen to allow the Russian government to maintain some of its annexes in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in our relationship,” Nauert said.

The building closures mark yet another notch up in the ever increasing diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

“There is finally the realization by the administration that Russians have been involved in intelligence operations at this consulate, which they have been doing for decades,” Rick Smith, an ex-FBI special agent who previously headed the bureau’s Russian counterintelligence squad, told the Associated Press.

“It’s almost 50 years of history and part of a tit-for-tat, but this is more like a hammer.”

To add insult to injury for the Russians, on the same day the consulate appeared to burn items inside, the New York Times published a damning, and perhaps must-read report, outlining just how deep that country’s meddling could have gone in the 2016 election.

Beyond outlining what the public already knows — that the Russians spread damaging information about Clinton and hacked emails from within the Democratic party — the story in the Times also gave credence to the conspiracy theory that Russian hackers infiltrated voter registration systems, state and local election databases, e-poll books and other equipment “well ahead of the 2016 voting,” according to the Times.

“We don’t know if any of the problems were an accident, or the random problems you get with computer systems, or whether it was a local hacker, or actual malfeasance by a sovereign nation-state,” Michael Daniel, who served as the cybersecurity coordinator in the Obama White House, told the Times. “If you really want to know what happened, you’d have to do a lot of forensics, a lot of research and investigation, and you may not find out even then.”

But even beyond conspiracies about hacking and the Homeland-esque scenario of destroying key evidence by burning it inside a consulate with hours to spare, the closure of the San Francisco consulate will also simply be a pain in the ass to both Russians living in the area and Americans attempting to do business with Russia.

As CBS noted, the Bay Area is home to more than 75,000 Russian-speaking residents. Now, they will have to travel to Seattle or Houston to renew their passports or meet with any Russian official.

“It’s very inconvenient,” Russian entrepreneur Daniel Kravtsov told the Chronicle. “Now we need to go to another city. I’m upset that everything is going in this direction.”

 

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