Russia’s domestic security service said on Monday that a former employee of the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok had been charged for illegally collecting information about the war in Ukraine and passing it to American officials.
The Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., announced the charges against Robert Shonov, a Russian national who was detained in May. The charges carry a punishment of three to eight years imprisonment.
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok or from the State Department. When Mr. Shonov was detained, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that the United States strongly condemned his arrest and called the allegations against him “wholly without merit.”
Mr. Miller said that Mr. Shonov had worked for the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok for 25 years and began working for a private contractor for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in April 2021, after the Russian government ordered the firings of all Russian staff at U.S. diplomatic missions in the country.
Mr. Miller said that Mr. Shonov’s job had been to write summaries of news media reports “from publicly available Russian media sources,” and that his employment was “in strict compliance with Russia’s laws and regulations.”
In its statement on Monday, the F.S.B. said that it was seeking to question two employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, whom it accused of directing Mr. Shonov’s activities.
Mr. Shovov’s arrest this spring came at a tense time for U.S.-Russian relations amid President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s detention in March of Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Gershkovich has been accused by the Russian government of espionage and is being held in pretrial detention that has been extended until at least Nov. 30.
Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive and former U.S. marine, was arrested in Moscow in 2018 for espionage and given a 16-year prison sentence.
American officials have vehemently denied the charges against both Mr. Whelan and Mr. Gershkovich and said that they consider both to be wrongly detained, a designation that essentially means the U.S. government considers them political hostages.