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7 Oct, 2023 03:08

Russia responds to expulsion of diplomats from US

Moscow said the move was “revenge” after two American staffers were ordered to leave Russia last month
Russia responds to expulsion of diplomats from US

The recent expulsion of two Russian diplomats from the United States marks another “confrontational step” by Washington, Moscow’s envoy to the US has said, noting that the embassy had been given no explanation for the decision.

Responding after the State Department declared two Russian officials personae non gratae earlier on Friday, Ambassador Anatoly Antonov argued the move was “banal revenge” for the dismissal of two American diplomats from Russia last month.

“Surprising here is the fact that our colleagues in the State Department, when handing over the note on expulsion, assured us – for some reason – that they had no intention to publicize this story and share details with the media,” the envoy said. “As has happened many times before, we have again been misled, contrary to the basic norms of diplomatic communication.”

Antonov went on to say that he had received no formal explanation for the blacklisting, adding that during his meetings with State Department officials, “I asked my interlocutors to explain what exactly our comrades were accused of and I received no arguments.”

In announcing the decision on Friday, Washington confirmed the move was retaliation for the recent expulsion of two US diplomats from Russia, warning that “unacceptable actions against our embassy personnel in Moscow will have consequences.”

The two American staffers were ordered to leave Russia on September 14. The Russian Foreign Ministry said at the time that they were “illegally” maintaining contact with Robert Shonov, a Russian national and former US consulate worker charged with espionage. 

“I would like to emphasize once again that the employees of the US Embassy in Moscow were found guilty of actions incompatible with diplomatic work,” Antonov said. “The expelled Americans were essentially interfering in our internal affairs and attempting to undermine Russia's national security.” 

Washington has denied any wrongdoing in the case and rejected Moscow’s allegations as “wholly without merit,” saying the expulsions were merely an attempt to “intimidate and harass” US embassy staff.

Relations between the two powers have steadily deteriorated in recent years, with the administration of former US President Barack Obama shutting down several Russian consulates after accusing Moscow of “interference” in the 2016 presidential election. The diplomatic row has only escalated since Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine last year, prompting a wave of Western sanctions and several tit-for-tat expulsions by both countries, including the dismissal of 12 Russian diplomats in February 2022.