A Russian who worked at a US consulate is accused of collecting information for US diplomats

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s top domestic security agency said Monday that a detained former employee of the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok is accused of collecting information about Russia’s action in Ukraine and related issues for U.S. diplomats.

Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, the country’s main domestic security agency, said Robert Shonov is suspected of “gathering information about the special military operation, mobilization processes in Russian regions, problems and the assessment of their influence on protest activities of the population in the runup to the 2024 presidential election.”

The FSB, the top KGB successor, also said it served summonses to question two U.S. diplomats who allegedly instructed Shonov to collect the information.

Shonov’s arrest was first reported in May, but Russian authorities provided no details at the time. The U.S. State Department, which previously condemned the arrest, issued a statement Monday saying the allegations against Shonov “are wholly without merit.”

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 who had foreign connections. It carries a prison sentence of up to eight years.

In its latest statement, the State Department said the use of the “confidential cooperation” law against Shonov “highlights the increasingly repressive actions the Russian government is taking against its own citizens.”

The State Department has said Shonov worked at the U.S. consulate in Vladivostok for more than 25 years. The consulate closed in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and never reopened.

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

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in May that Shonov’s only role at the time of his arrest was “to compile media summaries of press items from publicly available Russian media sources.”

Russian news reports have said Shonov was being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

Also held in Lefortovo is Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal. 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.

Gershkovich’s arrest rattled journalists in Russia and drew outrage in the West. The United States has declared Gershkovich to be “wrongfully detained” and demanded his immediate release.

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