In a recent development, the Russian Foreign Ministry has declared the expulsion of two US diplomats, following allegations of their involvement in recruiting a Russian citizen to act as a confidential informant. The diplomats in question, David Bernstein and Jeffery Sillin, have been given a seven-day notice to leave the country.
Summoning of US Ambassador
US Ambassador Lynne Tracy was summoned on Thursday to receive a ‘demarche’ note, a formal diplomatic protest concerning the alleged activities of the two diplomats. The Russian authorities have labeled the actions of Bernstein and Sillin as incompatible with their diplomatic status.
The Alleged Recruitment
Late in August, Russia’s security service, the FSB, identified Bernstein and Sillin as individuals of interest in an ongoing investigation. The duo is suspected of recruiting Robert Shonov, a Russian national, to serve as a confidential informant. The crime Shonov is accused of was incorporated into the Russian criminal code just last year, targeting individuals who engage in covert operations with foreign entities aimed at “harming the security of Russia.” The law stipulates a penalty of up to eight years in prison for such offenses. Shonov has been under arrest since May.
“Unlawful activity by the US diplomatic mission, including interference in the domestic affairs of the host state, is unacceptable and will be stopped with determination,” the Russian ministry stated.
US Response to the Allegations
The US government has rejected the allegations, dismissing them as baseless. Weeks before this development, State Department spokesman Matt Miller had termed the Russian claims as “wholly without merit.” Miller portrayed the accusations as a strategy to “intimidate and harass” the US embassy staff.
“Wholly without merit,” were the words used by State Department spokesman Matt Miller, describing the Russian allegations as an attempt to “intimidate and harass” embassy personnel.
A History of Strained Relations
This incident adds to the series of events marking the deteriorating diplomatic relations between Moscow and Washington, a decline that has been ongoing for several years. The roots of the current tensions can be traced back to the administration of former US President Barack Obama, which initiated the closure of Russian consulates, accusing Moscow of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
The reluctance of Russia to reciprocate by expelling US diplomats during the final weeks of Obama’s tenure was a significant point of discussion in the ‘Russiagate’ narrative that overshadowed Donald Trump’s presidency. However, a retaliatory move came in July 2017 when Moscow proceeded to expel US diplomats.
As the diplomats prepare to leave Russia within the stipulated period, this development signals a further strain in the US-Russia relations, with both nations having a history of accusations and retaliatory actions. Observers wait keenly to see how this diplomatic row unfolds, bearing in mind the intricate history shared between the two nations.