Russia orders expulsion of two US embassy staff for links to ‘spy’

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Two diplomats will be expelled for working with Robert Shonov, a former US consulate worker accused by Moscow of spying.

Russia has said it is expelling two United States diplomats for allegedly “liaising” with a Russian national it accuses of collaborating with a foreign state.

On Thursday, Russian authorities said two US embassy staff would be expelled for working with Robert Shonov, a former US consulate worker accused by Moscow of spying.

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that it had summoned US envoy Lynne Tracy and told her that embassy first secretary Jeffrey Sillin and second secretary David Bernstein must leave Russia within seven days.

“The named people conducted illegal activity, maintaining contact with Russian citizen R Shonov, accused of ‘confidential cooperation’ with a foreign state,” the ministry said.

“The US ambassador was told that Sillin and Bernstein must leave the territory of Russia within seven days under the status of persona non grata,” it said.

Robert Shonov, a Russian national who worked for the US consulate in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, was charged with allegedly passing information about the conflict in Ukraine to American diplomats, a claim the US has rejected.

He was employed by the US Consulate General for more than 25 years until Russia in 2021 ordered the termination of the US mission’s local staff.

Tensions between Russia and the US have been deteriorating for years, and both sides have expelled diplomatic staff.

The move by Russia is the latest indication of heightened tensions between the two states, particularly in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, launched in February last year.

Earlier this year, the US denounced the detention of US citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, with the State Department declaring he had been “wrongfully detained” by Russian authorities on charges of espionage.

The US has also urged Russia to free another one of its citizens, former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years for espionage.

The US strongly condemned Shonov’s arrest in May, accusing Russia of using “increasingly repressive laws against its own citizens”.

The US in August accused Moscow of attempting to intimidate and harass US employees after Russian state media reported that Shonov had been charged by security services with collecting information on the war in Ukraine and other issues for Washington.

Russian state news agency TASS quoted the Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying that Shonov relayed information to US embassy staff in Moscow on how Russia’s conscription campaign was impacting political discontent ahead of the 2024 presidential election in Russia.

The FSB had said it planned to question US embassy employees who were in contact with Shonov, who has been under arrest since May.

The foreign ministry on Thursday said Shonov had been paid to complete tasks aimed at damaging Russia’s national security and that any US embassy interference in its internal affairs would be suppressed.