In ongoing tit for tat, Russia protests 'illegitimate' search of its closed Washington compound

PHOTO: A Russian flag flies above the countrys consulate in San Francisco on Aug. 31, 2017.PlayJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Russia has summoned the top U.S. envoy in Moscow to issue a note of protest regarding an “illegitimate” search that officials there allege the U.S. plans at the country’s diplomatic facility in Washington, which is set to be shuttered today.

The country's foreign ministry said on Saturday that acting U.S. mission head Anthony Godfrey was handed a "note of protest over the intention of the American authorities to conduct a search" at a Russian trade representation.

Meanwhile, on Friday, smoke and fire were spotted on the sites of two Russian consulates -- one in Washington and another in San Francisco. The smoke sightings have aroused suspicion from at least one U.S. lawmaker, who claims that Russia was conducting espionage at the facilities.

A note of protest

With today’s note, Russia is protesting the alleged search of a trade facility in Washington, which represents one of three diplomatic buildings -- including the consulate in San Francisco and an office in New York -- that the U.S. has ordered Moscow to vacate.

Russia accused the U.S. of trying to break down the door to the building while conducting the alleged search.

"We consider the planned illegitimate search of the Russian diplomatic premises without the presence of Russian officials and a threat to break down the front door as an unprecedented, aggressive act," a statement from Russia's foreign ministry said.

The summoning of Godfrey represents the latest escalation in an ongoing tit-for-tat between the two countries.

The move to close the Russian facilities in the U.S. was made in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's order earlier this summer that the U.S. close two diplomatic buildings in Russia -- a warehouse and a recreational facility -- and reduce its staff in the country by 755 employees.

Russian nationals made up the majority of the U.S. embassy and consulates' employees there. Reports indicate that some 600 Russians would lose their jobs because of the cuts, while 100 Americans would be forced to leave their posts. A senior administration official would only say that the U.S. had met the 455-employee cap the Russians imposed, which affected both American and Russian staffers -- although American staff would be reassigned.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert warned this week that the U.S. could have gone further in pursuit of "parity" in diplomatic staffing levels, but chose not to in order to avoid a "downward spiral" in the relationship between the two countries.

PHOTO: Black smoke billows from a chimney on top of the Russian consulate, Sept. 1, 2017 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Black smoke billows from a chimney on top of the Russian consulate, Sept. 1, 2017 in San Francisco.

Fire, smoke, and accusations of espionage

The black smoke seen emerging from a chimney at the Russian consulate in San Francisco -- a day before the U.S. deadline for the Russian government to vacate the facility -- was called evidence of espionage by California Rep. Jackie Speier.

"If there ever was doubt that espionage was going on in the SF consulate, black smoke clears the air on the issue," Speier wrote in a tweet on Friday afternoon.

Firefighters confirmed to ABC News that the building's occupants were burning unidentified objects.

A spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry said the smoke was due to measures being taken to "preserve the building" as officials were preparing to leave.

Meanwhile, a reporter from Foreign Policy magazine recorded what also appeared to be a fire burning at the facility in Washington on Friday. It is unclear at this time what caused the fire at the Washington building.