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Russia expels U.S. diplomats

U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia. (U.S. State Department photo/released)
September 17, 2023

Russia announced Thursday that it was designating two U.S. diplomats as “persona non grata,” ordering them to leave within seven days due to allegations of “illegal activity” with a Russian national who was charged with collaborating with a foreign government.

According to Reuters, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that it had notified U.S. envoy Lynne Tracey Thursday that embassy First Secretary Jeffrey Sillin and Second Secretary David Bernstein would be required to depart from Russia within seven days.

“The named people conducted illegal activity, maintaining contact with Russian citizen R. Shonov, accused of ‘confidential cooperation’ with a foreign state,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “It was also emphasized (to Tracy) that illegal activities of the U.S. diplomatic mission, including interference in the internal affairs of the host country, are unacceptable and will be resolutely suppressed.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry added that it expects the United States to “draw the right conclusions” and to avoid “confrontational steps.”

In response to Russia’s expulsion of two U.S. diplomats, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow stated, “We completely reject the basis for this unprovoked expulsion of our diplomatic personnel. The two expelled individuals are accredited diplomats whose work was entirely consistent with their diplomatic status.”

“We have previously voiced our strong protest of the Russian government’s attempts to intimidate and harass U.S. Embassy employees,” the embassy added. “This step is a significant escalation.”

The U.S. State Department also claimed Russia’s action was unprovoked, warning that the United States would have an appropriate response, according to Reuters.

“This unprovoked expulsion of our diplomatic personnel is wholly without merit, as is the case against a former Russian contractor of our embassy,” Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesperson, told reporters Thursday.

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Miller claimed that Russia’s expulsion of U.S. diplomats represents a continued decision to choose “confrontation and escalation over constructive diplomatic engagement.”

“It continues to harass employees of our embassy, just as it continues to intimidate its own citizens,” Miller said. “We regret that Russia has taken this path, and you can certainly expect that we will respond appropriately to their actions.”

According to Reuters, Shonov was previously employed by the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok, a city in eastern Russia, for over 25 years before Russia ordered the U.S. mission’s staff to be dismissed in 2021.

In August, Russia’s Federal Security Service released a video that reportedly showed a confession by Shonov, claiming that Berstein and Sillin had asked him to gather information pertaining to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the mobilization of its military, the annexation of additional territories, and the 2024 presidential election, according to Reuters.

After Shonov’s arrest in May, the State Department claimed, “The allegations against Mr. Shonov are wholly without merit.”