Russia expels two Americans after embassy fight

Ilya Khrennikov and Nick Wadhams, Bloomberg

Russia said it expelled two Americans it claims were CIA agents in a tit-for-tat exchange, reflecting rising tensions following a scuffle outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow in June.

The pair were kicked out for activities incompatible with their diplomatic status, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a statement on the ministry’s website on Saturday. The action came weeks after two Russian diplomats were ordered to leave the U.S.

One of the banished Americans hit a Russian policeman on June 6 after returning from a CIA assignment, Ryabkov said in the statement. U.S. officials have said the Russian policeman tackled the American in the incident.

The two Russian diplomats were expelled June 17, State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Friday, without giving additional details about the response to the confrontation in Moscow. Video released on Russian television this week appeared to show the policeman emerge from a guard booth and wrestle the man to the ground after he got out of a taxi at an embassy entrance.

“The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee,” Kirby said on Friday. He said the American was an accredited diplomat but otherwise declined to identify him.

The footage of the skirmish contradicts a version of the incident given by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who said on June 30 that the diplomat had punched the police officer after being stopped and asked for identification. Zakharova said the man was an undercover Central Intelligence Agency agent.

“The Russian claim that the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue,” Kirby said.

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U.S.-Russian ties have worsened in recent years, with tensions aggravated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the two sides’ disagreement over the war in Syria. The embassy incident is part of a broader pattern in which Russian security services have “intensified their harassment against U.S. personnel in an effort to disrupt our diplomatic and consular operations,” Kirby said.

Ryabkov said the U.S. is trying to worsen relations with Russia and is putting pressure on Russian diplomats abroad, actions that can’t go unanswered.

With assistance from Susan Decker