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Moscow's ambassador in Washington: US-based Russian diplomats threatened with violence

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo shows the Russian Federation's Embassy in the United States

The diplomats serving with the Russian embassy in the United States have been avalanched with threats, including use of "physical violence," the Russian ambassador to Washington says, ascribing the menacing messages to Moscow's military operation in Ukraine.

"Every day, anti-Russian rallies take place near our mission, acts of hooliganism and vandalism take place. My comrades, embassy employees receive threats, including threats of physical violence," Ambassador Anatoly Antonov was cited by Russia's TASS news agency on Saturday as saying on Saturday.

"It’s a good comparison, I would rather agree with it - it’s like a besieged fortress. In principle, our embassy is working in a hostile environment," Antonov added.

According to the envoy, US agents also keep hanging around outside the embassy, "handing out CIA and FBI phone numbers."

The official interpreted the agents' attempts at establishing contact with the embassy's staffers as a means of trying to entice them to "betray" the Russian Federation.

"The horror here is that renowned politicians, whom I used to rather respect in the past, whose knowledge I held in high regard, now publish calls to Russian diplomats and military in the US media to switch to the side of the so-called democracy."

"Effectively, my comrades are being pushed into betrayal, which any country views as a despicable action," the Russian ambassador said.

The incitement to treason, Antonov said, is taking place while Washington has stopped all face-to-face meetings with the diplomats since the date Moscow's military operation began in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the “special military operation” on February 24 in order to “demilitarize” the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, the two regions declared themselves new republics, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s Western-backed government.

Ordering the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years were suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”

The dispute between Russia and the US over the size and nature of the operations of their respective diplomatic missions, however, began way before the Russian military entered Ukraine.

Moscow expelled a number of US diplomats in March after Washington said it was forcing 12 Russian diplomats at the country's United Nations mission in New York to head back to Russia.

Russia denies Ukraine forces damaged navy ship in Black Sea

Also on Saturday, Russia dismissed Ukraine's claim that it had damaged a modern navy logistics ship in the Black Sea, providing evidence to the contrary.

Three days earlier, military authorities in Ukraine's southern Odesa region said Ukrainian naval forces had hit the vessel, named Vsevolod Bobrov, setting it on fire.

In an online post, however, the Russian Defense Ministry published photos of the ship in the Crimean Black Sea port of Sevastopol.

"It is now clear from the photographs that the ship is not damaged at all," it said.

Last month, missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet, sunk after catching fire.

Ukraine said it hit the ship with a missile fired from the coast while Moscow blamed an ammunition explosion.

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