Russia has hired a former US consulate employee to gather information about the war in Ukraine for Washington.
The country’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement released early Monday that Robert Shonov, arrested in May, faces charges of “confidential cooperation with a foreign state”.
Shonov is a Russian national who, prior to his arrest, was a longtime staffer at the US consulate in the city of Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast.
The FSB said Shonov was being paid to gather intelligence on what the Kremlin is calling its “special military operation” in Ukraine, mobilization efforts across Russia and “problematic issues and their impact on popular protest activities ahead of the 2024 presidential election.” . Russia.” Security claimed Shonov performed these duties from last September until his arrest.
Two employees of the US embassy in Moscow were also named, who, according to the FSB, had commissioned Shonov directly.
“As part of the investigation, the FSB is conducting investigative measures aimed at finding out all the circumstances surrounding the Russian’s illegal activities,” the intelligence agency said in a statement, adding that it had served subpoenas for questioning of the two named American diplomats.
NBC News has reached out to the US Embassy in Moscow for comment.
Shonov’s arrest in May was condemned by the State Department, which called the allegations against him “completely unfounded” and said they amounted to “Russia’s flagrant application of increasingly repressive laws against its own citizens”.
Russia has tightened prison terms for treason, including espionage, and continues to criminalize all foreign dealings of its citizens, while waging a war in Ukraine and cracking down on dissidents in a way not seen since Soviet times.
The State Department said Shonov had been employed by the embassy in Vladivostok for more than 25 years and that his “only job at the time of his arrest was compiling media summaries of press articles from publicly available Russian media sources”.
At the time of his arrest, Russia’s state news agency Tass reported that Shonov was being charged with “conspiracy,” but did not specify the reason for the charges. It was said that Shonov could face up to eight years in prison.
On Monday, Tass shared a video allegedly showing Shonov’s arrest and interrogation, in which he explains how he was carrying out the duties for the US. NBC News could not verify the authenticity of the video, where and when it was filmed, or if Shonov said anything in his statement under duress.
Russia has arrested several Americans on espionage charges in recent years.
Journalist Evan Gershkovich was arrested in March on espionage charges and remains behind bars awaiting trial. His detention was extended last week to November 30. Gershkovich and his employer, the Wall Street Journal, have denied the allegations against him.
Meanwhile, former US Marine Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage. He also protests his innocence. Washington considers both Gershkovich and Whelan unlawfully imprisoned and is seeking their release.