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Russia says it will question U.S. diplomats about former consulate worker

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Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, said on Monday that it planned to interrogate two U.S. diplomats after accusing them of directing a former employee of the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok to gather information about Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The United States denied the Russian allegations, calling them “wholly without merit,” said State Department spokesman Matt Miller.

“We strongly protest the Russian security services’ attempts — furthered by Russia’s state-controlled media — to intimidate and harass our employees,” he said in a statement.

The former U.S. employee, Robert Shonov, is a Russian citizen who had worked at the consulate, in Russia’s Far East, for more than 25 years. The FSB has charged Shonov with “cooperation on a confidential basis with a foreign state,” a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison.

The FSB accused Shonov of working alongside the two U.S. diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, whom it identified as Jeffrey Sillin and David Bernstein, since last September, “gathering information about the special military operation, mobilization processes in Russian regions, problems and the assessment of their influence on protest activities of the population in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.”

Miller said Shonov was employed by the embassy “in strict compliance with Russia’s laws and regulations,” and charged that the Kremlin’s case against him “only highlights the increasingly repressive actions the Russian government is taking against its own citizens.”

It was unclear if Sillin and Bernstein were still in the Russian capital. Miller did not say if the State Department would allow them to meet with Russian investigators for questioning, but he warned Moscow that it is obligated under the Vienna Convention to “treat diplomats with due respect.”

Shonov’s detention was initially reported in May with few details. At the time, the State Department denounced Shonov’s detention, saying he had been performing routine activities as a private contractor.

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On Monday, the FSB published a video showing Shonov’s arrest and subsequent interrogation, in which Shonov appeared to confess to collaborating with a foreign state.

“I was tasked with gathering negative information, look for discontent and reflect it in my reports,” Shonov said in the video.

The consulate closed during the covid-19 pandemic, and in the wake of escalating tensions between Russia and the United States and tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions, it never reopened.

The dispute surrounding Shonov comes amid historically bad relations between Washington and Moscow due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Shonov’s arrest followed the detention in March of U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges, which Gershkovich, his employer, the Wall Street Journal, and the White House all forcefully deny. Gershkovich has been jailed in Lefortovo prison in Moscow. Last week, Gershkovich’s pretrial detention was extended until Nov. 30 — a move his legal team has since appealed.



POST AUTHOR: Francesca Ebel, John Hudson

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