International

US expels 12 Russian diplomats for ‘espionage activities’

The Biden administration on Monday announced it would be revoking diplomatic privileges for a dozen Russian spies accused of carrying out espionage under the cover of diplomacy.

“The U.S. has informed the Russian Mission that we are beginning the process of expelling 12 intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the U.S. by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security,” said Olivia Dalton, spokeswoman for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

While Dalton said the move to expel the operatives from their U.N. diplomatic posts had been in process for months, it falls amid heightened tensions with Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine.

Asked about the Russian ambassador to the U.S. characterizing the step as hostile, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the move was a direct response to Russian activity.

“I think the hostile act is committing espionage activities on our own soil,” she said.

Russia expelled the No. 2 diplomat from the U.S. from Moscow earlier this month, revoking privileges for Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman.

“We consider this an escalatory step,” the State Department said at the time.

The U.S. and Russia have had an ongoing spat over diplomatic privileges.

Russia in December ordered all U.S. Embassy staff that had been in the country for more than three years to leave after the U.S. removed privileges for 27 Russian diplomats and their families after imposing a three-year timeline for diplomats.

The U.S. also has a history of nixing diplomatic privileges for those it believes to be using diplomatic ties as a cover for spying.

Former President Obama booted 35 Russian spies after Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and the U.S. in 2018 expelled 60 Russian spies in response to the poisoning of a former Soviet spy on British soil.

Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report, which was updated at 4:44 p.m.

Tags Barack Obama diplomatic missions Jen Psaki US-Russia relations

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