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Moscow-Washington spat a possible precursor to major conflict

The diplomatic crisis between the US and Russia has reached a new peak, with the recent request for Moscow to close its consulate in San Francisco and trade offices in Washington and New York. This comes in response to enforced staff cuts at the US mission in Russia. Such requests would have been bearable for Russia, if not for reported searches by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in at least one Russian diplomatic compound.
In a sign of the escalation of the diplomatic crisis between Moscow and Washington, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused the US authorities of violating the immunity of its diplomats through the apparent FBI inspections.
The dismay was quite clear on the face of the Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who said last Friday that “the demands of the US authorities pose a direct threat to the security of Russian citizens.” She labeled the search as an “invasion (of) the consulate and to the staff residences.”
The US State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “In the spirit of parity invoked by the Russians, we are requiring the Russian government to close its consulate general in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, DC, and a consular annex in New York City. These closures will need to be accomplished by Sept. 2.”
In the aftermath of the closures, both countries will have three consulates. The US allowed Russia to keep some of its outposts in an effort to arrest the downward spiral in the relationship.
With the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman’s comments protesting the American measures, dubbing them “against international law,” the two superpowers are heading toward dark times in which Moscow reserves the right to take further action.

The latest diplomatic crisis will undoubtedly complicate relations between the US and Russia and could eventually trigger another world war.

Maria Dubovikova

“We are talking about invasion into a consulate and the accommodations of diplomatic staff,” Zakharova said. “We express a resolute protest over Washington’s actions that ignore international law. We reserve the right to take retaliatory measures … this is not our choice. The Americans are forcing us to do that.” 
With each of the two nuclear powers accusing each other of meddling in their internal affairs, things are heading toward a dispute that could trigger another world war. 
The fresh diplomatic rift is the latest twist in the tortured ties between the US and Russia, which have plummeted to their lowest point since the Cold War.
Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov said that his country will respond harshly to any US measures designed to hurt it, adding that Moscow “will have a tough response to the things that come totally out of the blue to hurt us and are driven solely by the desire to spoil our relations with the United States.”
The current diplomatic dispute has its origins in late 2016, when former US President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats, leaving the door wide open for potential escalation in a political and diplomatic spat. Reducing Russia’s diplomatic corps in the US will, without a doubt, complicate the relationship between the two countries. 
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that the US administration’s hostility toward Russia and North Korea means the situation is at risk of deteriorating into a “large-scale conflict.”
“Provocations, pressure, and bellicose and offensive rhetoric is the road to nowhere,” Putin said. 
The Russian president’s refusal to take part in the UN General Assembly meeting at the end of this month could also be viewed in light of the dispute with the US administration. 
No one knows where this spat will lead, although it could eventually ignite a worldwide conflict. That result would affect the world economically for years to come.
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme