Washington – The Russian government has expelled the second-most senior US official from the US Embassy in Moscow, the State Department said, as President Biden warned that the threat of aremains “very high”.
Bart Gorman, the US deputy chief of mission to Russia, was expelled from the Russian capital on Thursday, a State Department spokesman said.
“Russia’s action against [Gorman] was unprovoked and we consider this an escalation and are considering our response,” the spokesperson said in a statement, citing the prospect of retaliatory deportations from the Russian Embassy to Washington.
“We call on Russia to end its baseless expulsions of American diplomats and personnel and to work productively to rebuild our missions,” the statement continued. “Now more than ever, it is essential that our countries have the necessary diplomatic personnel to facilitate communication between our governments.”
Gorman had a valid visa and had been in the country for less than three years, the spokesperson said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the deportation and said it followed US orders for Russian diplomats to leave the United States late last month.
“The American diplomat was indeed ordered to leave Russia, but strictly in response to the unreasonable expulsion of the minister-counsellor from our embassy in Washington, despite his status as a senior official,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. , according to a machine translation of a Russian statement on the ministry’s website.
In December, the State Department said dozens of Russian diplomats who had been in the country for more than three years would be required to leave the country, with one group forced to leave in late January and another set to leave in late January. June. At the time, a State Department spokesperson said the move was “non-punitive” and was intended “to allow for greater parity between U.S. and Russian bilateral missions.”
Gorman’s expulsion comes as the United States and NATO warn that Russia is preparing for an invasion and strengthening its military presence on the Ukrainian border, despite Russian assurances earlier in the week that it was withdrawing its forces. .
Tensionson Thursday amid reports of shelling in the Donbas region, a disputed territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Both sides accused the other of violating a long-standing ceasefire, and the fighting reiterated fears that Russia could use the violence as a pretext for a wider invasion. US officials have warned for weeks that Russia could conduct a “false flag” operation to justify moving troops into Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mr Biden said he believed Russia would launch an invasion “in the next few days”.
“We have reason to believe they are engaged in a false flag operation to have an excuse to come in,” Mr Biden said. “Every indication we have is that they are ready to enter Ukraine.”