The top domestic safety agency in Russia said on Monday that an employee detained at the U.S. consulate in Vladivostok was accused of gathering information for U.S. diplomatic missions about Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Robert Shonov, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the main domestic security agency in the country, is suspected of “gathering intelligence about special military operations, mobilization processes, problems, and the assessment on their influence on the protest activities of Russian population in the lead-up to 2024’s presidential election.”
The FSB (the top successor to the KGB) said that it had summoned two U.S. Diplomats who allegedly told Shonov to gather the information.
Russian authorities first reported Shonov’s detention in May. However, they did not provide any details. The U.S. State Department condemned his arrest.
Shonov was charged in accordance with a new article under Russian law which criminalizes “cooperation, on a confidential base, with a foreign country or organization to support their activities that are clearly directed against Russia’s safety.” Kremlin opponents have claimed that the wording is so vague that it can be used by anyone with foreign connections to punish them. The maximum prison term is eight years.
Shonov has worked for the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok since more than 25 year. The consulate was closed permanently in 2020 due to the pandemic of COVID-19.
State Department said Shonov was employed by a company contracted to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow after an order from the Russian government in April 2021 forced the dismissal of local employees at U.S. diplomatic posts in Russia.
Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesperson in May, said that Shonov was only arrested for “compiling media summaries from publicly accessible Russian media sources.” Miller also argued that Shonov’s arrest “highlights Russia’s blatant abuse of increasingly repressive legislation against its citizens.”
According to Russian media reports, Shonov is being held at the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow.
Evan Gershkovich is also being held in Lefortovo, an American journalist for The Wall Street Journal. Gershkovich is in custody after his arrest on March 29, by Russia’s security services, for espionage allegations that he and his employer have denied.
The arrest of Gershkovich shook Russian journalists and caused outrage in Western countries. The United States declared Gershkovich “wrongfully arrested” and demanded that he be released immediately.