It was business as usual at the Russian Consulate in San Francisco Thursday, even after President Barack Obama ordered some of its diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours as part of a sweeping list of sanctions in response to election hacking.
Visitors to the consulate could be seen coming and going through the side doors to process paperwork and passports, while a small posse of reporters parked themselves outside the red brick building at 2790 Green Street hoping to try and get a hold of Russian officials.
There were no telltale signs on the exterior to indicate Russia’s foreign policy had just been dealt a big blow for what the U.S. government is calling meddlesome behavior.
Around noon, reporters, including one from NBC Bay Area, went up to the front gate and rang the intercom buzzer, asking for comment, but were greeted with the following statement in a thick Russian accent: “They’ll not be ready to give any comments, so please leave this territory.”
One of the reporters could be heard responding: “We’re on the public sidewalk out here, and in fact this is U.S. soil out here. Our question is, your diplomats have 72 hours to leave because they’re acting in a matter inconsistent with their diplomatic statuses. Are you still going to be processing paperwork, processing passports? Are you still there, hello?”
The reporters’ questions were met with silence.
At one point, an unidentified man stepped outside the consulate and said "This is an unfortunate step by the outgoing administration," before driving away.
A black Lexus with the U.S. seal was briefly parked in front of the building around noon, but took off with someone sitting in the back seat. Several cars with the same seal were parked outside the building through the afternoon. A makeshift memorial of flowers to honor victims of the Tu-154, which crashed into the Black Sea a few days ago, with all 92 on board, was visible in front of the consulate.
In all, the Obama Administration kicked out 35 Russian officials based out of Washington and San Francisco and shuttered two Russian-owned compounds in the U.S. It was the strongest action the administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyberattack.
“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Obama said in a statement released while he was vacationing in Hawaii. He added: “Such activities have consequences.”
The 35 Russian diplomats being kicked out are intelligence operatives, Obama said. The State Department said they were being declared “persona non grata,” and they were given 72 hours to leave the country.
The two compounds being closed down are recreational facilities owned by Russia’s government, one in Maryland and one in New York, the U.S. said.
The White House said Russia had been notified that Russia would be denied access to the sites starting noon on Friday.
The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the new sanctions were a sign of Obama's "unpredictable and, if I may say, aggressive foreign policy" and were aimed at undermining President-elect Donald Trump.
The Russian Embassy in the UK tweeted out a picture of a duck with the word "lame" on it, saying: “President Obama expels 35 Russian diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl American people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm.”
The Russian Consulate in San Francisco has not yet tweeted out anything, but has been retweeting the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Russia-Turkey brokered Syrian cease-fire situation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Voice from intercom at Russian Consulate in SF to reporters, "They will be not ready to give any comments, so please leave this territory." pic.twitter.com/VWDEWTLe6T — Christie Smith (@christies_nbc) December 29, 2016
President Obama expels 35 ���� diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl ���� people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm. pic.twitter.com/mleqA16H8D — Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) December 29, 2016