Russian diplomats vacate 3 properties on US orders

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Russian diplomats worked to vacate three properties in the United States on Saturday including the six-story consulate in San Francisco, complying with a U.S. order issued in retaliation for Moscow cutting the American diplomatic presence in Russia.

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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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Staff at the San Francisco consulate were seen moving equipment, furniture and small items from the building into minivans and driving away, before coming back for more 20 to 30 minutes later. A group of men in plainclothes and suits were seen on the roof of the consulate looking around, some wearing rubber gloves.

The closure ordered by the Trump administration of the consulate in San Francisco and two buildings housing Russian trade missions in Washington and New York was the latest in tit-for-tat measures between the two countries that have helped plunge relations to a new post-Cold War low.

The United States ordered the Russians to shutter their operations in the buildings by Saturday.

In July, the Kremlin ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people, to match the number of Russian diplomats in the United States, after the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly approved new sanctions against Russia.

Those U.S. sanctions were imposed as punishment for what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was Moscow's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as well as Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.

As of early Saturday afternoon, the Russian flag was still seen atop the consulate in San Francisco. Someone opened a window above the main entrance and wedged a small Russian flag there. A small contingent of news media and curious passersby gathered below the building.

Images posted on social media on Friday showed black smoke billowing from a chimney of the consulate, on the hottest day in San Francisco's recorded history. The smoke prompted speculation that diplomatic staff inside the consulate were burning sensitive documents.

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said the fire was part of a "mothballing."

Russia's foreign ministry said on Saturday it has summoned a U.S. diplomat in Moscow to protest over plans to conduct searches in Russia's trade mission complex in Washington, another of the buildings ordered closed.

Images posted on social media on Friday showed smoke and flames visible outside the trade mission building in Washington.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in San Francisco and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

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