The Russian government has expelled two US diplomats for allegedly maintaining contact with a Russian national who worked for the US Mission and is accused by Moscow of being an “informant,” CNN reported. The two diplomats – Jeffrey Sillin and David Bernstein have been declared as “persona non grata,” which implies that they have to leave the country within one week.
The United States has condemned Russia’s decision stating that Moscow has chosen “confrontation and escalation over constructive diplomatic engagement.”
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US Embassy in Moscow, US Ambassador Lynne Tracy was summoned to the Ministry on Thursday. Lynne Tracy was informed that the two diplomats – Jeffrey Sillin and David Bernstein have been declared as “persona non grata,” which means they have to leave the country within a week.
US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller condemned Russia’s decision to expel two diplomats. Miller said that Russia has yet again chosen “confrontation and escalation over constructive diplomatic engagement.” He further said that the US would “respond appropriately” to Russia’s actions.
While addressing a press briefing on Thursday, Matt Miller said, “This unprovoked expulsion of our diplomatic personnel is wholly without merit, as is the case against a former Russian contractor of our embassy who was arrested for the supposedly nefarious task of performing such activities as providing our embassy with media clips.”
He further said, “Yet again, Russia has chosen confrontation and escalation over constructive diplomatic engagement. It continues to harass employees of our embassy, just as it continues to intimidate its own citizens. We regret that Russia has taken this path, and you can certainly expect that we will respond appropriately to their actions.”
Miller said the expelled US diplomats have not yet left Russia, according to CNN. The expulsion of the two US diplomats comes at a time when the ties between Washington and Moscow have been strained.
In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Tracy was given “a harsh demarche with the presentation of an official note regarding the incompatibility with the diplomatic status of the actions of the First Secretary of the US Embassy Jeffrey Sillin and the Second Secretary of the Embassy David Bernstein.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that these individuals carried out “illegal activities” and maintained contact with Russian citizen Robert Shonov, according to CNN report. It termed the “illegal activities” of the US diplomatic mission, including interference in the internal affairs of the host country as “unacceptable.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said, “These persons carried out illegal activities, maintaining contact with Russian citizen (Robert) Shonov, accused of ‘confidential cooperation’ with a foreign state, who was given tasks for financial compensation aimed at harming the national security of the Russian Federation.”
It further said, “It was also emphasized that illegal activities of the US diplomatic mission, including interference in the internal affairs of the host country, are unacceptable and will be resolutely suppressed. The Russian side expects Washington to draw the right conclusions and refrain from confrontational steps.”
Russian citizen Shonov, who had served in the US Consulate in Vladivostok for more than 25 years, was arrested and charged with “confidential cooperation” with a foreign government, CNN reported citing Russian state media outlet TASS report in May.
US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller termed the charges as being “wholly without merit.” He said Shonov was working for “a company contracted to provide services to the US Embassy in Moscow in strict compliance with Russia’s laws and regulations” after the Russian government banned the US from employing Russian staff in 2021, CNN reported.
In May, Miller said that Shonov’s role at the time of his arrest “was to compile media summaries of press items from publicly available Russian media sources.”
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