US warns Russia about questioning diplomats

The US State Department has said it strongly objects to Russian attempts to “intimidate and harass” American diplomats

US warns Russia about questioning diplomats

The State Department says it expects Moscow to respect its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

Plans by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) to question two employees of the US embassy in Moscow is an attempt to “intimidate and harass” American citizens, Washington has said.

“Russia is obligated under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to treat diplomats with due respect and to take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on their person, freedom, or dignity,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement on Monday.

Washington expects Moscow to fulfill its commitments under the convention in relation to the current case, he added.

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

On Monday, the FSB announced summonses had been issued for two American diplomats, David Bernstein and Jeffery Sillin, who work at the US embassy in Moscow. The security agency said it’s looking to question the men as witnesses in the case of Russian citizen Robert Shonov, who is facing treason charges.

Shonov, who worked at the now-defunct US consulate in the city of Vladivostok in the country’s Far East, was detained in May on suspicion of illegally acting as a confidential informant for Washington. If found guilty, Shonov, now in his early 60s, could face up to eight years in prison.

In a video released by the FSB, Shonov acknowledged his guilt, saying he had acted on directions from Bernstein and Sillin, who first approached him in September 2022. The consulate in Vladivostok was shut down in 2020 as part of a series of tit-for-tat restrictions imposed by Washington and Moscow.

The suspect said the US diplomats had wanted him to provide them with information about potential new recruits, who were dissatisfied with the policies of the Russian government. They were also interested in intelligence about Moscow’s special military operation in Ukraine and mobilization in the country, he added.

In his statement, Miller described the accusations against Shonov as being “wholly without merit.” The Russian citizen had been “employed by a company contracted to provide services to the US embassy in Moscow in strict compliance with Russia’s laws and regulations,” he said.

When approached by Russian outlet RBK, the US embassy in Moscow said it had yet to receive a summons for Bernstein and Sillin from the Russian authorities. According to the mission, its staff only learned about the FSB’s plans to question the diplomats from the media.