U.S. takes down mansion’s flag, raises Russian dander

By Hal Bernton

The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — U.S. State Department staff removed the Russian flag from a Seattle mansion that served as that nation’s consul-general residence, and Russian diplomats are not happy.

A Russian Embassy statement posted on Facebook accused U.S. officials of “unacceptable treatment” of their national symbol and insist it should be returned to its “legitimate place” on the flagpole over the mansion.

The Russians vacated the residence April 24, and the next day State Department staff drilled out the locks and moved in to inspect and secure the property.

A State Department spokesperson said the flag came down because the house no longer serves as a residence for a consular establishment. It was “respectfully” lowered Saturday night and will be returned to the Russian Embassy.

The spat over the flag is part of a broader diplomatic clash this spring that was touched off by allegations that the Russian government attempted to poison a former Russian spy living in the United Kingdom.

The Trump administration expelled 60 Russian government officials from the United States and ordered the closure of the Seattle Consulate. The Russians responded with a wave of expulsions of U.S. diplomats and the shuttering of the U.S. Consulate in St Petersburg.

U.S. diplomats took down the American flag when the U.S. consulate general was forced to vacate St. Petersburg, according to a State Department spokeswoman. The spokesman also said that it would not be appropriate for the Russian flag to continue to fly over the Seattle mansion since permission for the consulate had been withdrawn in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

“We encouraged the Russian government to remove their flag themselves, and they decided not to,” the State Department said in a written statement.

The situation in Seattle is complicated by the Russian claim of ownership of the historic Samuel Hyde House that has served since 1994 as a residence for the consulate general.

“We would like to remind the U.S. authorities that the residence … is the property of the Russian Federation and it is inviolable,” said the statement released by the Russian Embassy.

The State Department, in statements released last week, said the house belonged to the Russian government but the land is owned by the U.S. government.

King County records show only that the property belongs to the U.S. government, and makes no mention of separate ownership of the house, according to a county official.

The Russians say the seizure of the house violates international law, a claim that the State Department rejects.

In the statement released Monday, the Russian Embassy also called for the return of the Samuel Hyde House as well as diplomatic property in Washington, San Francisco, and the states of Maryland and New York.