Russia announced on Thursday the expulsion of two US diplomats for serving as “liaison” agents for a former Russian employee at the US consulate in Vladivostok, whom Moscow accuses of being a spy.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that two American diplomats, Jeffrey Sillin and David Bernstein, “carried out illegal activities by communicating with a Russian citizen, (Robert) Shonov.”
Sillin and Bernstein must leave Russian territory within seven days, the Foreign Ministry said.
Shonov is accused of “confidential cooperation with a foreign state,” because “he was entrusted with tasks in exchange for financial compensation with the aim of undermining Russia’s national security,” the ministry said.
The US ambassador to Moscow, Lynne Tracy, was summoned by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday and informed of this decision, according to the same source.
“Illegal activities of the American diplomatic mission, including interference in the internal affairs of the host country, are unacceptable,” added the Russian diplomatic service.
Robert Shonov, a former employee of the American consulate general in Vladivostok, in the Far East of Russia, was indicted at the end of August by the Russian security services.
He has been accused of gathering information on the Ukrainian military campaign and conscription for US diplomacy since September 2022, and is now facing an eight-year prison sentence.
The US embassy in Moscow criticized in a statement an unreasonable decision by the Russian authorities, and promised to respond.
“We reiterate our strong protest against the Russian government’s constant attempts to intimidate and harass employees of the United States embassy,” the diplomatic legation said, accusing Moscow of “choosing confrontation and progress.”
Tensions between Russia and the United States have been escalating for years, and both sides have expelled diplomatic staff.