.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says any US attempts to set preconditions for returning Russia’s diplomatic property in New York and Maryland are “daylight robbery,” as Moscow presses for access to the seized compounds.
The top Russian diplomat made the remarks in a press conference on Monday, reacting to a report by the RIA Novosti news agency published earlier in the day, which cited an unnamed senior official in the White House as saying that Washington was not planning to return the diplomatic property without asking for “something in return.”
“It looks like some highway thieves are commenting on this situation. How is that, to seize property which was assigned by a bilateral intergovernmental ratified document, and to give it back they follow the principle, ‘Mine is mine, and yours will be shared,” Lavrov further said.
Back in December last year, the Russian compounds were seized by the administration of then-President Barack Obama over allegation of Moscow’s involvement in hacking the US 2016 presidential election, which Moscow flatly denies. Obama also ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats over the hacking accusation despite Moscow’s strong denial.
Lavrov also expressed hope that incumbent US President Donald Trump has some people with logic, who understand that their predecessors in the former president Barack Obama’s administration decided to seize the residential complexes and expel Russian diplomats in “a state of agony.”
“Such a zealous desire to seek some ‘hidden’ channels of Russian influence on what is happening in the US is clearly not subsiding, to my great regret, and does not add confidence that we would be able to establish normal cooperation in international relations,” he added.
The Russian foreign minister further said that the Obama-led authorities did not know how else they could destroy Moscow-Washington relations “in such a way that the Trump administration would fail to restore them.”
Obama said at the time that Washington decided to shut down the compounds in response to US intelligence reports of Moscow’s hacking and a purported influence campaign to divert the US presidential election in Trump’s favor. He even claimed that Russia used the property for “intelligence-related purposes.”
Earlier on Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also said that Washington must unconditionally restore Moscow’s access to diplomatic complexes in the US ahead of high-level talks on the issue due to be held between Thomas Shannon, the US State Department’s third-in-command, and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov in the American capital later on Monday.
“We consider it absolutely unacceptable to place conditions on the return of diplomatic property, we consider that it must be returned without any conditions and talking,” he further told journalists in a press conference in Moscow.
Russian initially hoped that Trump would return the property soon after he took office in January, and earlier speculations were also in line with the Kremlin’s expectation. But over the past six months no progress has been made, prompting Moscow to ratchet up threats that it could belatedly take revenge by blocking a country house and a storage facility used by the US Embassy in the Russian capital in a tit-for-tat move.
“If Washington decides not to solve this issue, we will have to take counter-actions,” Lavrov warned last week.
Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman, stated last week that Washington was also refusing to issue visas for new Russian diplomats, who are to replace those expelled.
Nevertheless, the Trump administration has reportedly been considering returning the compounds in an effort to improve relations with Russia. Relations between Moscow and Washington are being described as at their worst since the Cold War.