WASHINGTON - The United States on Thursday ordered Russia to close its consulate in San Francisco as well as two annexes in Washington and New York in two days, in a tit-for-tat response to Moscow’s drastic reduction of US diplomatic staff in their country.

The State Department said the decision was made “in the spirit of parity,” adding that the closures needed to be completed by Saturday.

At the start of Donald Trump’s presidency in January, the Republican leader said he hoped for improved relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

But after the US Congress approved new economic sanctions against Moscow over its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, Putin in July ordered drastic cuts in US staff in retaliation.

Along with the San Francisco consulate, the installations ordered closed were a chancery annex in Washington, where Moscow has a giant embassy complex, and a consular annex in New York.

“The United States has fully implemented the decision by the government of the Russian Federation to reduce the size of our mission in Russia,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “We believe this action was unwarranted and detrimental to the overall relationship between our countries,” she added, noting that, with the closures ordered, “both countries will remain with three consulates each.”

Putin said 755 diplomatic staff - both Russian and American - would have to stop work by Friday, although the US State Department has not confirmed the number. The number of US diplomatic staff will now be capped at 455, the same number that Russia has in the United States.

It is not clear how many of the US-employed staff losing their jobs will be physically leaving the country, or how many are Russian citizens. The RBK news site cited sources saying that at least 600 are Russian. “We have waited long enough, hoping that the situation would perhaps change for the better,” Putin said when he announced the cuts. “But it seems that even if the situation is changing, it’s not for any time soon.”

On Thursday, Washington expressed hope that the two sides “can avoid further retaliatory actions... and move forward to achieve the stated goal of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries.” But the State Department warned: “The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted.”

Washington had already announced it would suspend issuing all non-immigrant visas in Russia between August 23 and September 1.

Visa operations at US consulates will remain suspended indefinitely.

Russia voices ‘regret’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday expressed “regret at the escalation of tensions” after the United States told Moscow to shut its consulate in San Francisco.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Lavrov as Washington announced it was ordering Moscow to shut the consulate, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

“In response the minister expressed regret at the escalation of tensions in bilateral relations,” it said.

“Moscow will examin the new measures announced by the Americans in detail after which our reaction will be announced.”

The US State Department ordered Moscow to close the consulate and two annexes in Washington and New York in two days, saying the decision was made “in the spirit of parity” following a Moscow-imposed cap on the US diplomatic presence in Russia.

“The Consulate General will act in accordance with the decision that will be taken by the Russian leadership regarding this decision by the Americans,” the consul in San Francisco Sergei Petrov told RIA-Novosti news agency.

“Right now the foreign ministry will decide on the procedure of the shut down, where people will go, and so forth,” he said.

Russia has had a diplomatic presence in San Francisco since 1852, according to the consulate’s website. It closed in 1924 because of a lack of funds but reopened in 1934 after Washintgon established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.