U.S. Expels 12 Alleged Russian Spies

Russia warns retaliation likely.

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.
United Nations headquarters
United Nations headquarters
Security staff gathers outside the United Nations headquarters in New York on Sept. 22, 2021. DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images

Putin’s War

The Biden administration has ordered the expulsion of 12 officials from Russia’s mission to the United Nations, declaring them personae non gratae and giving them a deadline of March 7 to leave the country, according to U.S. and Russian officials.

“The U.S. has informed the Russian Mission that we are beginning the process of expelling 12 intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the U.S. by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security,” Olivia Dalton, the chief spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., said on Twitter.

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia addressed the expulsions in the middle of a live press conference at U.N. headquarters. Nebenzia halted the press conference to take a brief call on his cellphone. When he hung up, he said he had just received a report detailing the American action.

The Biden administration has ordered the expulsion of 12 officials from Russia’s mission to the United Nations, declaring them personae non gratae and giving them a deadline of March 7 to leave the country, according to U.S. and Russian officials.

“The U.S. has informed the Russian Mission that we are beginning the process of expelling 12 intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the U.S. by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security,” Olivia Dalton, the chief spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., said on Twitter.

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia addressed the expulsions in the middle of a live press conference at U.N. headquarters. Nebenzia halted the press conference to take a brief call on his cellphone. When he hung up, he said he had just received a report detailing the American action.

“I have just received information that the U.S. authorities have undertaken another hostile action against the Russian Mission to the United Nations,” Nebenzia told reporters. “This is just hot news that arrived at my attention right way. That’s why I took the phone.”

The American action, he said, “grossly violates” Washington’s obligations under the terms of a 1940s agreement it signed as the host country of the United Nations. Nebenzia said the action follows efforts by Russia to have the U.N. secretary-general mediate disputes between the United States and U.N. member states over their status in the organization.

Nebenzia said that he did not know the names of the targeted Russian officials or what jobs they performed at the mission. But he insisted that they were diplomats.

Asked if Russia would respond by expelling U.S. diplomats in Russia, he said “I’m sure that the response will follow, because it’s diplomatic practice for a tit for tat,” he said. “It’s not our choice. We didn’t initiate it, and I think the answer will be given, but it’s not for me to decide.”

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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