Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday it has expelled two U.S. Embassy employees from the country, accusing them of working with a Russian national that Moscow had previously accused of spying.

In a statement, the foreign ministry said it had summoned U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy and informed her that the two diplomats — Jeff Sillin and David Bernstein — conducted “illegal activities by liaising with a Russian citizen, Robert Shonov,” and they must leave the territory of Russia within seven days.

Shonov had worked as a local employee at the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Vladivostok for more than 25 years until Russia ordered the termination of the U.S. mission’s local staff in 2021. 

Russia’s Federal Security Service — the FSB — arrested Shonov in May and accused him of cooperating “on a confidential basis with a foreign state,” alleging he passed information to the United States about Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

Last month, the FSB announced it planned to interrogate Sillin and Bernstein after it accused them of directing Shonov to gather information.  

In a statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Matt Miller called the allegations “wholly without merit,” and he insisted Shonov was employed by a company contracted to provide services to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “in strict compliance with Russia’s laws and regulations.”

Miller went on to say the U.S. strongly protested the Russian security service’s attempts to “intimidate and harass our employees.” It is unclear if Sillin and Bernstein were ever questioned by the FSB.

Some information for this report came from Reuters and AFP.