08-28-2023, 10:02 PM

A Russian employee of a US consulate is charged with gathering data for US officials

A arrested former employee of the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok is suspected of gathering information for American diplomats regarding Russia's actions in Ukraine and related matters, according to a report released on Monday by Russia's top domestic security agency.

Robert Shonov is suspected of "collecting information about the special military operation, mobilization processes in Russian regions, problems and the assessment of their influence on protest activities of the population in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential election," according to the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the country's main domestic security agency.

Shonov's detention was first made public in May, but Russian authorities at the time gave no further information. After previously criticizing the detention, the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Monday that the accusations against Shonov "are wholly without merit."

Shonov was accused of violating a new Russian law that makes it unlawful to "cooperate secretly with a foreign state, international organization, or foreign group to assist their activities that are clearly aimed against Russia's security." Critics of the Kremlin claim that the phrase is so wide that it may be applied to penalize any Russian with contacts abroad. It carries a maximum eight-year prison term.

The use of the "confidential cooperation" law against Shonov, according to the State Department's most recent statement, "highlights the increasingly repressive actions the Russian government is taking against its own citizens."

Shonov worked for a firm the United States hired to maintain its embassy in Moscow after a Russian government decree in April 2021 mandated the termination of all local staff members in U.S. diplomatic outposts in Russia, according to the State Department.

Shonov's sole responsibility at the time of his detention, according to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, was "to compile media summaries of press items from publicly available Russian media sources."

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