Two diplomats are being expelled for working with Robert Shonov, a former US consulate employee accused by Moscow of espionage.

Russia has said it will expel two US diplomats for allegedly “collaborating” with a Russian citizen whom the country accuses of collaborating with a foreign state.

On Thursday, Russian authorities said two U.S. embassy officials would be expelled for working with Robert Shonov, a former U.S. consulate official accused by Moscow of espionage.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had summoned U.S. envoy Lynne Tracy and informed her that first embassy secretary Jeffrey Sillin and second embassy secretary David Bernstein must leave Russia within seven days.

“The named persons carried out illegal activities and maintained contact with Russian citizen R. Shonov, who was accused of ‘confidential cooperation’ with a foreign state,” the ministry said.

“The US ambassador has been informed that Sillin and Bernstein must leave the territory of Russia within seven days under persona non grata status,” it said.

Robert Shonov, a Russian citizen who worked for the U.S. consulate in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, has been charged with allegedly passing information about the conflict in Ukraine to American diplomats, a claim the U.S. has denied.

He was employed by the U.S. Consulate General for more than 25 years until Russia ordered the layoff of local U.S. mission staff in 2021.

Tensions between Russia and the USA have been increasing for years, and both sides have expelled diplomatic staff.

Russia’s move is the latest sign of heightened tensions between the two states, particularly in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine that began in February last year.

Earlier this year, the US denounced the detention of US citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. The State Department said he was “unjustly detained” by Russian authorities on espionage charges.

The US has also called on Russia to release another of its citizens, former US Marine Paul Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 for espionage.

The United States strongly condemned Schonov’s arrest in May and accused Russia of “applying increasingly repressive laws against its own citizens.”

The U.S. accused Moscow in August of trying to intimidate and harass U.S. employees after Russian state media reported that Schonov had been accused by security services of gathering information for Washington about the war in Ukraine and other issues.

Russian state news agency TASS quoted the Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying Shonov passed information to U.S. Embassy staff in Moscow about how Russia’s conscription campaign impacted political discontent ahead of Russia’s 2024 presidential election.

The FSB had said it would question US embassy employees who were in contact with Shonov, who has been detained since May.

The State Department said Thursday that Shonov was paid to perform tasks aimed at harming Russia’s national security and that any interference by the U.S. Embassy in its internal affairs would be suppressed.

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