(Reuters) - The United States on Monday accused Moscow of attempting to intimidate and harass U.S. employees after Russian state media reported that a former U.S. consulate worker had been charged by security services with collecting information on the war in Ukraine and other issues for Washington.
Russian state news agency TASS quoted the FSB security service as saying that Robert Shonov, a Russian national, relayed information to U.S. embassy staffers in Moscow on how Russia's conscription campaign was impacting political discontent ahead of the 2024 presidential election in Russia.
The FSB said it planned to question U.S. embassy employees who were in contact with Shonov, who has been under arrest since May.
Shonov was employed by the U.S. Consulate General in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok for more than 25 years until Russia in 2021 ordered the termination of the U.S. mission's local staff.
State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller repeated the U.S. position that the allegations against Shonov, who Washington says was subsequently employed via a company contracted to the U.S. embassy to summarise news reports, "are wholly without merit."
"Russia's targeting of Mr. Shonov under the 'confidential cooperation' statute only highlights the increasingly repressive actions the Russian government is taking against its own citizens," Miller said in a statement, adding that Washington was aware the FSB had also summoned two diplomats working at the U.S. embassy in Moscow in connection to the case.
"We strongly protest the Russian security services' attempts - furthered by Russia's state-controlled media - to intimidate and harass our employees," said Miller.
The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Reuters; additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Washington; editing Mark Heinrich and Rosalba O'Brien)