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Authorities in Russia have charged a former U.S. consulate worker with collecting intel about the war in Ukraine among other related issues for Washington diplomats.
In a statement on Aug. 28, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) said it “stopped the illegal activities” of Robert Robertovich Shonov, a former employee of the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok, and charged him with “cooperation on a confidential basis with a foreign state.”
The country’s main domestic security agency added that Mr. Shonov, a Russian citizen, is accused of collecting information about the “special military operation” in Ukraine, mobilization processes in the region of Russia, as well as problems and the assessment of their influence on protest activities of the population in the leadup to Russia’s 2024 presidential elections.
Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine last February.
The FSB, which is Russia’s successor agency to the Soviet Union’s KGB, noted that Mr. Shonov was charged under a new article of Russian law that criminalizes “cooperation on a confidential basis with a foreign state, international or foreign organization to assist their activities clearly aimed against Russia’s security.”
Kremlin critics have said the formulation is so broad it can be used to punish any Russian citizen who has foreign connections. It carries a prison sentence of up to eight years.
The FSB also named two other diplomats in the political department in the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Jeffrey Cillin and David Bernstein, who allegedly instructed Mr. Shonov to collect the intel. The agency said that it’s planning to question the two American diplomats.
Mr. Shonov’s arrest was first reported by Russia’s state news agency TASS in May, but Kremlin authorities provided little details on what prompted the arrest at the time.
According to Russian news reports, he was being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.
Responding to the FSB’s latest announcement, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State said in a statement on Aug. 28 that the allegations against Mr. Shonov “are wholly without merit.”
“As we have stated previously, Mr. Shonov was employed by a company contracted to provide services to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in strict compliance with Russia’s laws and regulations. Russia’s targeting of Mr. Shonov under the ‘confidential cooperation’ statute only highlights the increasingly repressive actions the Russian government is taking against its own citizens,” Matthew Miller said in the statement.
“We strongly protest the Russian security services’ attempts—furthered by Russia’s state-controlled media—to intimidate and harass our employees,” he continued. “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, and we expect them to fulfill that obligation.”
The State Department has said Mr. Shonov worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok for more than 25 years. The consulate closed in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and never reopened.
The federal agency also said that after a Russian government order in April 2021 required the dismissal of all local employees in U.S. diplomatic outposts in Russia, Mr. Shonov worked at a company the United States contracted with to support its embassy in Moscow.
Also held in Lefortovo prison is Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Gershkovich has been in custody since his March 29 arrest by Russia’s security service on espionage charges that he, his employer, and the U.S. government have denied.
Mr. Gershkovich’s arrest