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US condemns arrest of former US consulate employee in Russia

The headquarters of the U.S. State Department at the Harry S. Truman Building. (AgnosticPreachersKid/ Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. State Department has condemned the arrest of a former employee of a U.S. consulate in Russia, saying the allegations against the Russian citizens are “wholly without merit.”

TASS reported the detention of Robert Shonov in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East on May 15 and said he was accused of illegal covert collaboration with foreigners.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on May 16 that Shonov is a Russian national who worked at the now-closed U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok for more than 25 years.

Miller said after the Russian government in April 2021 issued an order forcing termination of all local staff employed at U.S. diplomatic missions in Russia, Shonov was employed by a company contracted to provide services to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

“Mr. Shonov’s only role at the time of his arrest was to compile media summaries of press items from publicly available Russian media sources,” Miller said in a statement. The targeting of Shonov under the “confidential cooperation” statute highlights Russia’s “blatant use of increasingly repressive laws against its own citizens.”

The TASS news report on Shonov’s arrest didn’t say when the detention occurred or provide any details of the allegation against him.

The news agency reported that a Moscow court on May 18 would consider extending Shonov’s arrest for three months. He is being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison on charges that carry a potential sentence of up to eight years in prison, TASS said.

That is the same prison where Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal, is being held. Gershkovich has been in custody since his arrest on March 29 by Russia’s security service on espionage charges that he, his newspaper, and the U.S. government have denied.

The United States has declared Gershkovich to be wrongfully detained and demanded his immediate release.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin has widened the scope of a crackdown on criticism of Russian government policies.