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State Department condemns Russia's arrest of former U.S. consulate worker

Robert Shonov, a Russian national who was arrested Monday on espionage charges, worked for the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok for more than 25 years.
The building of the US Embassy in Russia on Novinsky Boulevard.
People walk past the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in January 2022.Igor' Ivanko / Kommersant/Sipa via AP file

A Russian national who used to work for the U.S. Consulate was arrested by Russian security forces Monday and charged with espionage, drawing swift condemnation from the State Department.

The state-run news agency Tass reported the arrest of Robert Shonov, who worked for the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok, a Pacific port city near China and North Korea, for more than 25 years. The report did not specify what prompted the charges.

The State Department said Tuesday the allegations were "wholly without merit."

"Mr. Shonov’s only role at the time of his arrest was to compile media summaries of press items from publicly available Russian media sources," spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shonov was taken to Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison for further questioning, according to Tass, and he faces up to eight years in prison. Evan Gershkovich, an American journalist for The Wall Street Journal who the U.S. says has been wrongfully detained by the Russian government, is being held at the same prison.

Vedant Patel, the principal deputy spokesperson at the State Department, told reporters Tuesday that the Russian government did not directly notify the U.S. about Shonov’s arrest. Because he is not a U.S. citizen, Patel said, the State Department has no ability to visit or communicate with him.

After the Russian government forced the U.S. mission to terminate the employment of all local staff members in April 2021, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow contracted out for services, including the company for which Shonov worked.

"His being targeted under the 'confidential cooperation' statute highlights the Russian Federation’s blatant use of increasingly repressive laws against its own citizens," Miller said.

The State Department is also expressing concern that other former locally employed staffers of the U.S. mission in Russia could face similar charges and arrests.

"It is our understanding that staff, including former staff, could be subjected to further scrutiny from the Russian government, and so we continue to be very careful about our contact and engagement with them," Patel said.

The White House has been working to try to secure the release of Gershkovich, who was arrested on spying allegations at the end of March. The Journal has denied the espionage charges. The Biden administration is also trying to bring home businessman Paul Whelan, a former Marine imprisoned by Russia on suspicion of spying, which he and the U.S. government have denied.