Russia lashed out at the United States on October 11, lodging a protest and claiming that Russian flags were stolen from its vacated consulate in San Francisco, a charge immediately disputed by the U.S. State Department.
The Russian Embassy to the United States said on its Russian-language Twitter account that flags were "stolen" from the building and called it "the latest shameful event" in a series of tit-for-tat diplomatic reprisals between the countries this year.
"We demand the American authorities return our state symbols," the post said, alongside pictures of a bare flagpole on top of the consulate building.
The U.S. State Department denied that the flags were stolen.
"The flags at the former Russian consular properties in San Francisco were respectfully lowered and are safely stored within each of the buildings," a State Department official said in e-mails to reporters.
The Russian Embassy said it had lodged a formal protest over the incident.
"A decisive protest was sent to the American side in connection with the fact that Russian flags were torn off our diplomatic properties in San Francisco, which are under the control of U.S. authorities," the embassy said in a Russian-language statement on its website.
In English, the embassy used the more neutral word "removal."
"We consider such a move...an extremely unfriendly step," the embassy said.
A tweet from the Russian Foreign Ministry cited ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying: "We regard the removal of flags from Russian diplomatic property in the US as desecration of a Russian state symbol."
Washington ordered Moscow to vacate the consulate and Russian trade annexes in Washington and New York at the beginning of September, steps intended to produce parity in the sizes of the Russian and U.S. diplomatic missions.
Earlier on October 11, a Russian Foreign Ministry official repeated a threat to demand a further cut in the number of U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia, to 300.
In late July, Russia ordered the United States to cut the number of diplomatic personnel in Russia to 455 by September 1 -- a reduction of about two-thirds -- in retaliation for a new U.S. law strengthening sanctions imposed on Russia over issues including its aggression in Ukraine and alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.