The United States expelled two Russian officials in response to a videotaped incident of an American diplomat being attacked by a policeman in Moscow last month. After the decision was announced on Friday, the Russian government said on Saturday that it had declared two US officials persona non grata, according to Russian state media. The decision to expel each other's diplomats comes within an increasingly rocky relationship between the two nations.
In the Moscow video, which was released earlier this week by Russian state-owned NTV, a man gets out of a cab shortly after midnight and approaches the entrance of the US embassy compound. A guard rushes out of the sentry box and tackles him to the ground. The man then crawls to safety through the doors of the embassy.
State department spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday that the incident took place on June 6 and was just the most recent example of American diplomats being mistreated and harassed in Russia. Kirby said the Russian diplomats were expelled from the US on June 17 in response to the attack. "We are extremely troubled by the way our employees have been treated over the past couple years," Kirby said.
The Russians, meanwhile, have a different side of the story. The Russian Foreign Ministry is claiming that the American was a CIA agent who would not provide his identification document and then hit the guard in the face. "Instead of the CIA employee, who was in disguise, as we understand, it could have been anyone – a terrorist, an extremist, a suicide bomber," Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told NTV, adding that the guard was just doing his job.
James Clapper, the head of US intelligence, warned in February of slipping into a "Cold War-like spiral" – blaming Russia's "paranoia" about NATO and saying its attempts to rival American military and geopolitical power was driving aggression. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also described bilateral relations with the West as a "new Cold War" earlier this year.
In 2013, Russia expelled and exposed a suspected spy who was working undercover at the US embassy in Moscow.
Ryan Fogle was arrested while allegedly trying to convince an agent of the FSB, Russia's intelligence agency, to work for the CIA instead. In a raid following Fogle's arrest, Russian authorities say they discovered an elaborate arsenal of suspected spying equipment including two wigs, three pairs of glasses, a compass, a map of Moscow, a knife, a lighter, his US embassy ID and wads of 500-euro notes.
Russian authorities contended that Fogle was just one of many other Americans who were operating as undercover spies in an effort to recruit FSB agents.
"For the last two years, we have seen persistent CIA attempts to flip members of law-enforcement agencies in Russia," an Russian intelligence official said at the time, according to the Guardian.