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Russia expels 2 US embassy staff over alleged espionage links

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Russia has ordered the expulsion of two United States diplomats on allegations of maintaining connections with a Russian national accused of espionage.

The Russian government claims that the two US embassy staff members were collaborating with Robert Shonov, a former US consulate worker, who Moscow asserts was involved in spying activities.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued an official statement, announcing that it had summoned US envoy Lynne Tracy to convey the decision. According to the statement, embassy first secretary Jeffrey Sillin and second secretary David Bernstein have been directed to leave Russian territory within seven days. The ministry asserted that these individuals engaged in unlawful activities by maintaining contact with Russian citizen R. Shonov, who has been accused of “confidential cooperation” with a foreign state.

Robert Shonov, a Russian national who had worked at the US consulate in Vladivostok for over 25 years, was charged with allegedly passing information regarding the Ukraine conflict to American diplomats. However, the United States has vehemently denied these allegations. Shonov’s employment at the US Consulate General came to an end in 2021 when Russia ordered the termination of local staff associated with the US mission.

This expulsion of US embassy staff is the latest manifestation of escalating tensions between Russia and the United States, especially following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of the previous year. Earlier this year, the United States criticized Russia’s detention of US citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, labeling it as a “wrongful detention” on charges of espionage.

The United States has also called for the release of another American citizen, former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years for espionage in 2020. The US strongly condemned Shonov’s arrest in May and accused Russia of using increasingly repressive laws against its own citizens.

In August, the US accused Moscow of attempting to intimidate and harass US employees after Russian state media reported Shonov’s charges by security services for collecting information on the Ukraine conflict and other issues on behalf of Washington. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed that Shonov provided information to US embassy staff in Moscow regarding how Russia’s conscription campaign was affecting political sentiments leading up to the 2024 presidential election in Russia. The FSB had announced its intention to question US embassy personnel who had been in contact with Shonov, who has been under arrest since May.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, in its recent statement, reiterated that Shonov had received payment for tasks aimed at damaging Russia’s national security and warned against any US embassy interference in its internal affairs, vowing to suppress such actions. Tensions between the two nations continue to mount, and this diplomatic spat adds to the growing discord in their relationship.

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