Passport Services Will Be Missed When Russian Consulate In Seattle Closes
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The Russian government announced yesterday that it is kicking out 60 American diplomats and closing the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg. This move is retribution for the United States expelling Russian diplomats and for closing Russia's Consulate in Seattle. That is the only Russian Consulate west of Texas. And as John Ryan from member station KUOW in Seattle reports, Friday is the last day Russians will be able to renew their passports there.
JOHN RYAN: Except for the rock star parking space reserved for diplomats, you'd never know the Russian Consulate is in this downtown Seattle skyscraper up on the 25th floor. The White House announced it would close this consulate as retribution for the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in England and because of the nuclear submarines and Boeing factories in Seattle's backyard.
On Monday, a couple of people in the ground floor lobby were speaking Russian. I only had the chance to catch Larry's first name and ask what local Russians thought of the closure.
LARRY: Not really surprised, but they're shocked because of the...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm sorry. No press is allowed in this building...
LARRY: Yeah, yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...At this time. I'm sorry. You're going to have to leave.
RYAN: And then that happened. Others had better luck than I did getting in. Sasha Senderovich lives in Seattle. He's a dual citizen of Russia and the U.S. The University of Washington professor says he swore when he heard the news.
SASHA SENDEROVICH: And now I'm like, what am I going to do? Like, I'm never going to retrieve it.
RYAN: He had a passport he'd been procrastinating picking up from the consulate for months.
SENDEROVICH: I have family in Russia that I - you know, I want to visit them sometimes. I need it if I want to travel to Russia.
RYAN: The consulate announced it had terminated its passport and visa services. But Senderovich and others were able to pick up their documents. Next time, they might have to go to Texas. Senderovich says he doesn't mind being a small casualty of this action against the Russian government. On the other hand, he believes the economic sanctions approved last year by Congress and put in place by the Trump administration this month would do less collateral damage.
SENDEROVICH: Because those sanctions are much more targeted against people in the Putin inner circle who have vast fortunes that depend on things like foreign transactions.
RYAN: What about keeping spies away from Boeing and nuclear submarines? Fifteen miles west of Seattle is one of the nation's largest collections of nuclear missiles.
HANS KRISTENSEN: What's at the Trident base, the submarine base? By my count, it's nearly one-third of the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal that is there.
RYAN: Hans Kristensen works on arms control for the Federation of American Scientists.
KRISTENSEN: Eight Trident ballistic missile submarines, each of them can carry 20 ballistic missiles, and each of those missiles can be equipped with up to eight nuclear warheads.
RYAN: The submarines and the Boeing plants have been in the Seattle area for decades, long before the consulate opened in 1992.
KRISTENSEN: You obviously have to ask yourself, if the Russians have been spying from this consulate for all these years, why hasn't it been closed down many years ago?
RYAN: Russia has given the United States two days to close its consulate in St. Petersburg. The White House issued a statement that says Russia's response was not unanticipated and the United States will deal with it. For NPR News, I'm John Ryan in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.