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Russia Expels Two US Diplomats In Tit-For-Tat Reponse

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said it expelled two U.S. diplomats from Moscow last month in response to what it called a similar "unfriendly" move by Washington, amid a deepening diplomatic dispute between the two countries.

The tit-for-tat explusion of the diplomats, in both the United States and in Russia, was an echo of a common practice during the Cold War, but one that hadn't occuredin some years. It was also a reflection of the increasingly strained relations between the two nations.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a statement released the ministry July 9 that one of the expelled Americans was involved in an incident with a Russian guard near the U.S. Embassy entrance in Moscow, and he called him a "hooligan."

Another diplomat was "also a CIA operative", Ryabkov said.

The statement came one day after the United States announced it had expelled two Russian officials following the violent altercation that occured June 6 in Moscow.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the Russians were thrown out on June 17 in connection with that incident, but gave no further details.

It wasn't immediately clear who the Russians were and whether they were accredited diplomats.

The June 6 altercation occurred when a man identified as an accredited U.S. diplomat was tackled and injured by a Russian security service guard outside an embassy entrance.

U.S. officials said the American had just shown his embassy badge to the guard, one of several that help monitor the perimeter of the massive embassy complex and who work for the Federal Security Service, the country's main security agency.

The guard then tackled the diplomat, leaving him with a broken shoulder.

Russia later accused the man of being a CIA agent.

Earlier this week, the state-controlled TV channel NTV broadcast a surveillance video of the incident, showing a uniformed man springing from a guard station outside the Embassy entrance and tackling another man after the latter exits a taxi.

They struggle on the floor until the American manages to force himself along the ground through the door of the embassy, whose premises are "inviolable" under a United Nations convention.

NTV also identified the American, published his photograph and said he had been made persona non grata in Russia.

There have beenincreasing number of tense, publicized encounters, between U.S. diplomats and Russian security officials in Moscow and elsewhere in recent months.

Moscow traffic police have stopped U.S. embassy personnel about five dozen times over the six weeks, according to the U.S. official -- an unusual number in a city where diplomats are usually afforded leeway for things like minor traffic violations.

And the spokesman for the U.S. diplomatic post last week reported returning home to find cigarettes in his apartment; another reportedly returned home to find the water taps turned on.

Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the incident with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a phone call on June 7, the day after the altercation, Kirby told reporters July 7.

In Washington, American officials have given few details publicly about any of the incidents, but stressed on several occasions that they wanted to resolve the harassment behind closed doors and without publicity.

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