Russia's Foreign Ministry says a U.S. diplomat who was involved in an altercation with a Russian guard outside the Moscow Embassy was a spy returning from an unspecified intelligence operation.
The June 30 announcement comes amid a slew of complaints by both sides of improper treatment of diplomatic staff in each other's country.
The public statements represent a remarkable escalation with echoes of Cold War spy capers between Moscow and Washington.
The U.S. diplomat suffered a broken shoulder after being tackled on a sidewalk outside the U.S. Embassy compound in central Moscow on June 6, according to a U.S. official who spoke to RFE/RL about the incident.
The guard who was said to have tackled the man was part of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) division that both guards and monitors the embassy. That led to speculation that the American had been specifically targeted as an intelligence officer, a question raised by The Washington Post, which first reported on the incident.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on June 30 that the guard attempted to stop the man to check his identity, but the man struck the guard in the face with his elbow before running into the embassy.
"In the tussle that followed, the unknown man shoved away the guard employee and disappeared into the embassy," she said.
"It's well-known that this very diplomat was in fact an agent of the CIA. He was returning, in disguise, after conducting an intelligence operation the previous night," Zakharova said.
She called the report that the man suffered a broken shoulder "in the realm of fantasy" and described the guard as a member of the Russian police.
"The Americans should be saying thank you to the sentry who was diligently fulfilling his duties," she said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow did not immediately return messages seeking comment. A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the report.
Intelligence officers -- Russian, American, and other -- routinely work under diplomatic cover when posted to foreign countries, providing them with a modicum of legal protection, and such duties are frequently an open secret for foreign counterintelligence agencies.
A U.S. official told RFE/RL that diplomats in Moscow and Washington have met with their Russian counterparts to complain about the incident and others that come as U.S.-Russian relations sink to their lowest point since the Cold War, following sanctions imposed against Russia for its actions in Ukraine and with increasing NATO and Russian military presences on each side of Russia's western border.
U.S. diplomats in Moscow have reported being pulled over by Moscow traffic police about five dozen times over the past month, an unusual number in a city where diplomats are usually afforded leeway for things like minor traffic violations.
The embassy spokesman this week reported returning home to find cigarettes in his apartment; another official reportedly returned home to find the water taps turned on.