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Russia accuses detained ex-employee of US consulate of collecting information for American diplomats

Robert Shonov is suspected of gathering information about the special military operation and mobilisation processes in Russian regions among other things.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Moscow Published on: August 28, 2023 22:01 IST
Detained former employee of US Consulate in Vladivostok
Image Source : AP Detained former employee of US Consulate in Vladivostok Robert Shonov

Russia's Federal Security Service, also called FSB, said on Monday that a former employee of the US consulate in Vladivostok, who has been detained since May, has been accused of collecting information about the ongoing war in Ukraine and related issues for American diplomats.

Robert Shonov is suspected of 'gathering information about the special military operation, mobilisation 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, said the FSB.

The Russian domestic security agency also said that it has served summons to two US diplomats alleged to have instructed Shonov to collect the information. His arrest in May was condemned by the US Department of State.

Charges against Shonov include cooperating on a confidential basis with a foreign state, international or foreign organization to assist their activities clearly aimed against Russia's security. If convicted, Shonov can face upto eight years in prison. 

According to the US State Department, Shonov has worked in the US Consulate in Vladivostok for over 25 years. the consulate closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and never reopened after.

The State Department has said that Shonov worked at a company the US contracted with to support its embassy in Moscow after a Russian government order in April 2021 required the dismissal of all local employees in US diplomatic outposts in Russia.

Shonov's only role at the time of his arrest was to "compile media summaries of press items from publicly available Russian media sources", said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. He lambasted the Russian government for its blatant use of "increasingly repressive laws against its own citizens".

Shonov is currently detained inside Moscow's Lefortovo prison, which also contains Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Gershkovich has been kept in custody since March on espionage charges that have been denied by him and the US government.

Gershkovich's arrest in Russia sparked outrage in the Western countries, with the US saying he was “wrongfully detained” and demanded his immediate release.

Tensions between the US and Russia have intensified after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Putin has repeatedly warned that Russia, which has more nuclear weapons than any other country, will use any means necessary to defend itself. He has described the conflict in Ukraine as a battle for Russia's survival against an aggressive West.

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