Many Russian and U.S. citizens were left in limbo Thursday morning following the announcement that California’s only Russian consulate, which is located in San Francisco, will shut its doors permanently on Saturday.
Frantic to renew passports or obtain travel documents, dozens of people lined the sidewalk in front of the Consulate General in San Francisco targeted for closure at 2790 Green St. in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow neighborhood. They expressed concern about their documents as well as future travel plans.
“I had plans to go to Russia for the World Cup [in 2018], but my passport is expired,” said Yuri Alexandrovski, who lives blocks from the consulate and works for a tech startup. “It’s shocking. We are in complicated times.”
Hours earlier, the State Department ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in San Francisco in response to the Kremlin expelling U.S. diplomats from Moscow.
“We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.
Nauert said the Russian government has until Saturday to close the Consulate General in San Francisco as well as annexes in Washington, D.C., and New York City.
“The U.S. hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern,” Nauert said. “The U.S. is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.”
Daniil Korovitsyn, 19, and his 76-year-old grandfather Yevgeniy Korovitsyn, were eating breakfast together in their Pacific Heights home Thursday morning when they learned of the consulate closures on Russian TV. Daniil Korovitsyn had been preparing to drive to college, but his grandfather told him to cancel that trip and together they went to the consulate.
The duo had intended to travel to Russian next month. Daniil Korovitsyn is a dual citizen, but his Russian passport had expired and he was planning to renew it.
“What this means for us right now is that we can’t go to Russia together to see our friends and family,” Yevgeniy Korovitsyn told the San Francisco Examiner. “This has completely destroyed our vacation.”
Of his grandson, Yevgeniy Korovitsyn said, “He cannot even get a visa because he is a Russian citizen.” Daniil Korovitsyn added, “The closest embassy is in D.C., but I heard they are closing that too.”
Yevgeniy Korovitsyn called the closure of the consulate “barbaric” and questioned how the Russian government will respond to the news.
“They will react in the same manner. It’s a volley of political bullshit. We feel cheated,” he said.
By Thursday afternoon, those hoping to pick up processed passports were told they only had one more day to do so, and that all appointments scheduled after Friday will be canceled.
A statement posted to the Russian consulate’s Facebook page described U.S. orders to close the consulate, which has issued more than 16,000 tourist visas for American citizens, as “another unfriendly step of the U.S. authorities” which will affect Russian and U.S. citizens alike.
“A significant part of Russians also have American citizenship,” the statement reads. “Closure of the Consulate General will create certain difficulties in the preparation of documents for this category of Americans. Also, there is a question of time frame, that the U.S. authorities gave for the closure of the Consulate General – only two days.”
“I think it’s unfair, it just affects so many common people,” said San Francisco resident Kate Stanton, whose mother lives in Russia. “I really do not think that there should be such a state of conflict between the U.S. and Russia. I’m Russian, I’m a U.S. citizen, it’s just sad. It was fortunate that my passport was ready, otherwise I don’t know what I would do.”
The announcement comes after a decision by the Russian government last month to reduce the number of American diplomatic staff allowed in their country, according to Nauert.
Then-President Barack Obama in December announced the expulsion of four employees and their families at 2790 Green St.
The removals were part of sanctions against Russia for allegedly interfering with the U.S. election through computer hacking and harassing U.S. diplomats abroad.