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Russia expels two US diplomats, summons American ambassador

A view shows the US Embassy in Moscow, Russia, February 13, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Russia has summoned the US ambassador to Moscow and expelled two American embassy diplomats accused of working with a Russian spy.

In a statement on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Ambassador Lynne Tracy, telling her that first secretary Jeffrey Sillin and second secretary David Bernstein must leave Russia within a week.

Declaring the two diplomats “persona non grata,” the ministry said the pair had allegedly worked with a Russian national accused of collaborating for a foreign state.

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

Robert Shonov, according to Reuters, was employed by the US Consulate General in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok for more than 25 years up 2021, when Moscow prevented the local staff from working for the US mission.

“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,” the ministry added.

Back in May, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested Shonov, accusing him of passing information about the war in Ukraine to the two American diplomats. Washington slammed Moscow for the move, accusing Russia of using “increasingly repressive laws against its own citizens.”

Last month, the US also rejected the allegation against its embassy staff, accusing Moscow of attempting to intimidate and harass US employees.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday, however, said Shonov had been paid to complete tasks aimed at harming Russia’s national security, vowing that any US embassy interference in Russia’s domestic affairs would be suppressed.

Tensions between Russia and the US have been worsening for years and both sides have expelled diplomatic staff in retaliatory moves.

In February, the US expelled 12 diplomats from Russia's New York-based mission to the UN, accusing the staff of engaging in espionage activities. Moscow condemned the move as hostile and a gross violation of the commitments by the US.

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