The United States said Monday that it was expelling 12 Russian diplomats based at Moscow’s U.N. mission in New York for engaging in espionage activities.
“The United States has informed the United Nations and the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations that we are beginning the process of expelling twelve intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security,” U.S. Mission to the United Nations spokesperson Olivia Dalton said in a statement. “We are taking this action in accordance with the U.N. Headquarters Agreement. This action has been in development for several months.”
Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters that the U.S. gave them until March 7 to leave the country. He said that it is a “hostile action” by the U.S. government and violates Washington’s obligations as the host country of the United Nations.
Nebenzia also called the order “sad news” and said the U.S., the host country, was showing “gross disrespect” to its commitments “both under U.N. Charter and the Host Country Agreement, and Vienna conventions.” The Vienna Convention also applies to the treatment of diplomats.
Nebenzia received the news in a phone call during a press conference about the Ukraine conflict. He said the U.S. had delivered a letter to Moscow’s New York mission with the decision.
It is not the first time the U.S. has declared Russian diplomats at the U.N. persona non grata. Most recently, in 2018, the Trump administration expelled a dozen Russian diplomats from the U.N. mission on similar charges as tensions rose over a poisoning attack on a former Russian spy in Britain.
Nebenzia also informed members of the U.N. Security Council of the development at the start of a meeting on the growing humanitarian crisis.
“We keep being told about the need for diplomacy, diplomatic solutions. And at the same time, our opportunities to conduct this kind of activity are being restricted,” he said. “We deeply regret this decision and will see how events develop within the context of this decision.”
U.S. envoy Richard Mills replied that the decision was taken in full accordance with the U.N. Headquarters Agreement.