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US expels two Russian diplomats; Moscow calls it 'banal revenge'

the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, the United States (file photo)

The US has expelled two Russian diplomats in what the Russian ambassador to the United States called "banal revenge". 

The US State Department said it made the decision in response to Russia declaring two US diplomats persona non grata in September over alleged collaboration with a Russian spy.

“The Department will not tolerate the Russian government’s pattern of harassment of our diplomats,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said reacted to the decision in a statement on Telegram after a meeting with the US side.

"I asked my interlocutors to explain what exactly our comrades were accused of and I received no arguments. Thus, this is, in fact, banal revenge, which does not do credit to American diplomacy," he said.

On September 14, the Russian foreign ministry summoned US Ambassador Lynne Tracy to inform her that two American diplomats - first secretary Jeffrey Sillin and second secretary David Bernstein – had been declared as “persona non grata”, meaning that they had to leave the Russian Federation within a week.

The Kremlin had accused the pair of keeping contact with a Russian national - Robert Shonov - who had once worked for the now-closed US consulate in Russia's far-eastern city of Vladivostok and been arrested earlier this year on the charge of “confidential cooperation” with a foreign government.

Shonov was employed by the US Consulate General in the faraway city for more than 25 years up 2021, when Moscow prevented the local staff from working for the US mission.

In mid-September, Miller warned that the US would respond to the expulsion of the two US diplomats from Russia “expeditiously.” He further slammed the charges as being “wholly without merit”, saying that Shonov had been working “in strict compliance with Russia’s laws and regulations.”

Moscow has said that the two expelled US diplomats “carried out illegal activities” and maintained contact with Shonov, “who was given tasks for financial compensation aimed at harming the national security of the Russian Federation.”

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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