By Alexander Marrow and Mark Trevelyan
LONDON (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Russia said on Thursday it would expel two U.S. diplomats accused of collaborating with a Russian citizen accused of collaborating with a foreign state.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had summoned US envoy Lynne Tracy and told her that the embassy’s first secretary Jeffrey Sillin and second secretary David Bernstein would have to leave Russia within seven days.
“The named persons conducted illegal activities, maintaining contacts with the Russian citizen R. Shonov, accused of ‘confidential collaboration’ with a foreign state,” the Russian note reads.
The US State Department said the expulsion of the two diplomats was unprovoked and warned that Washington would react appropriately.
“This unwarranted expulsion of our diplomatic personnel is entirely without merit, as is the case against a former Russian contractor for our embassy,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“Once again, Russia has chosen confrontation and escalation over constructive diplomatic engagement. It continues to harass our embassy employees, just as it continues to intimidate its own citizens. We regret that Russia has taken this path, and you can certainly expect that we will. respond appropriately to their actions.”
Robert Shonov was employed at the U.S. Consulate General in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok for more than 25 years, until Russia in 2021 ordered the dismissal of local U.S. mission staff.
The Russian security service FSB released a video in August showing an alleged confession by Shonov in which he claimed that Sillin and Bernstein had asked him to gather intelligence on Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, its annexation of “new territories”, the its military mobilization and on the 2024 presidential elections. election.
In the video, Shonov said he was told to collect “negative” information on these topics, to look for signs of popular protest and to reflect them in his reports.
Washington accused Moscow of trying to intimidate and harass U.S. employees after Russian state media reported the allegations against Shonov and said the FSB planned to question embassy employees who had been in contact with him.
When he was arrested in May, the State Department said the case highlighted Russia’s “blatant use of increasingly repressive laws” against its citizens. He stated that the accusations against Shonov were “completely without merit”.
In its statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Shonov was paid to complete tasks aimed at harming Russia’s national security.
“It was also emphasized (to Tracy) that the illegal activities of the American diplomatic mission, including interference in the internal affairs of the host country, are unacceptable and will be resolutely repressed,” he said.
“The Russian side expects Washington to draw the right conclusions and refrain from confrontational steps.”
Relations between Moscow and Washington have plunged to their worst point in more than 60 years due to the war in Ukraine. The United States is supplying advanced weapons to Ukraine and has hit Russia with sanctions in response to its invasion in February 2022.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Marguerita Choy)