It was moving day at Seattle’s Russian Consular Residence where diplomats, workers, and their families spent the morning packing belongings, gear, and equipment into a small convoy of trucks waiting in the alley. Meanwhile, the Russian flag still flew above the historic Hyde mansion.
The personal scenes of moving out played out under the swirl of geopolitical intrigue that has touched down here at E Madison and 38th Ave E. In March, CHS reported on the Trump administration’s expulsion of Russian diplomats in response to an alleged Kremlin-backed nerve agent attack on a former spy in the United Kingdom. As part of the diplomatic crackdown, the White House also ordered the closure of Russia’s Seattle consulate in Seattle’s downtown One Union Square over spying concerns.
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U.S. Dept. of State officials gave diplomats until April 24th to leave the Madison Park property that has been used as the residence for the Russian government’s Consulate General in Seattle since the U.S> Office of Foreign Missions acquired the house in what King County records say was a $1.1 million transaction in April 1994.
In the past few weeks, Russian diplomats have reportedly been storing some of the materials from their downtown office at the Madison Park mansion. That and the items accumulated over decades of diplomacy and life in the large 1910-built landmark were packed up Tuesday morning.
Moving trucks and vehicles with consular plates lined up around the house and bags of trash were stacked up along with the standard issue garbage and recycling bins in the city. CHS asked one worker if there was anything interesting in the trash. “The diplomat speaks English,” she said before going back to take more pictures of the mansion.
A man who said he was from “the embassy” asked CHS how we had heard about the planned move out. We told him about the state department deadline given to us weeks ago. “You are the local internet news?” he asked but did not invite CHS inside the gates.
A neighbor said goodbye and told the group she looks forward to their return. “Tell Donald to fix this,” she said. “You’ll be back.”
Not everything could be moved. A large generator installed in the back courtyard appears to now be a permanent feature of the property.
Workers and diplomats lugged bags and boxes while sons lent a hand. One man wore a Russian flag like a cape. A woman who identified herself as a Russian journalist based in Washington D.C. snapped pictures on her phone and gathered with a remaining group on the front lawn for more group pictures after most of the packing was done around 10 AM.
It is still not clear what the state department’s next move will be in Madison Park. Located not far from the gates of the private Broadmoor neighborhood along E Madison, the soon-to-be-emptied historic Samuel Hyde House is worth millions and is recognized as a landmark by the city and by the National Register of Historic Places. A state department spokesperson was looking into the matter for CHS but had no immediate answer. UPDATE: “The property will be maintained by the Department of State,” an official tells CHS.
Meanwhile, even as the trucks were packed, the brass plaque identifying the consulate remained in place on the front gate and the Russian flag was flying above the Hyde House on the warm spring Seattle morning.
“Sure, yes,” one person helping with the move said about whether the group planned to leave the flag behind.
As the cars and vans and Penske trucks pulled away around 10:30 AM, the Russian national anthem played loudly from the lead car as others in the small caravan waved little Russian flags out their windows and headed up E Madison — a Russian moving day parade.
UPDATE 4/25/18: Here is some video of the scene from Sputnik News:
— Sputnik Insight (@Sputnik_Insight) April 24, 2018
Meanwhile, here is official Russian news outlet TASS on the move:
“We are now leaving the premises of the consul general’s residence, which is Russia’s diplomatic property and which we had to leave by 23:59 local time on April 24 (09:59 Wednesday Moscow time – TASS),” he said. “We are leaving Seattle and are heading to Washington. Our convoy has 11 cars. They carry 23 people – diplomats and their family members, including children.”
Head of the Russian embassy’s Consular Section, Nikolai Pukalov, said that Russian diplomats had acted before the move day to remove “the archive and valuable equipment out of the building,” TASS reports.
UPDATE 4/25/18: Here is coverage of the day after from the Seattle Times including U.S. officials reportedly having the locks drilled out at the residence and Russians calling Wednesday’s actions an “invasion.” “Officially the consular general has stopped working,” Nikolay Pukalov, head of the consular division of the Russian Embassy, told the Times. “Of course we feel very sorry about this event because the American public as well as Russian citizens here are left without consular assistance, and that will make things more difficult for ordinary people.”
The Seattle Times also reports a clarification of ownership about the house saying A U.S. State Department official told the paper that the Russians own the residence “but that the U.S. government owns the land where the building sits.”