The Russian government has expelled the second-highest-ranking U.S. diplomat from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, according to the State Department.
Bart Gorman, the U.S. deputy chief of mission to Russia, was expelled on Feb. 17, a State Department spokesperson told news outlets.
“Russia’s action against [Gorman] was unprovoked, and we consider this an escalatory step and are considering our response,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson told news outlets that Gorman had a valid visa and has been in Russia for less than three years.
“We call on Russia to end its baseless expulsions of U.S. diplomats and staff and to work productively to rebuild our missions,” the spokesperson said. “Now more than ever, it is critical that our countries have the necessary diplomatic personnel in place to facilitate communication between our governments. ”
Jason Rebholz, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, also confirmed the news in comments to Russian outlet RIA Novosti.
“Gorman was the second-most-senior official at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, after the ambassador, and a key member of the embassy’s top management,” he said on Feb. 17.
“Russia demands that American diplomats leave well before the end of their three-year stay, and gives them two weeks to leave, calling it similar measures. But this is not the same thing,” Rebholz said of Gorman’s departure.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry hasn’t publicly commented on Gorman’s departure.
The Russian Embassy in Washington hasn’t responded to a request for comment. The Epoch Times also has contacted the State Department for additional comment.
Gorman’s expulsion came as the United States has continuously issued warnings of a possible Russian invasion in Ukraine amid a reported troop buildup along the border between the two countries. President Joe Biden told reporters on Feb. 17 that the possibility of Moscow attacking is “very high,” although Russia has categorically denied reports.
“We have reason to believe they’re engaged in a false-flag operation to have an excuse to go in,” Biden said. “Every indication we have is they’re prepared to go into Ukraine.”
Tensions also hit new levels after reports of shelling in Ukraine’s Donbas region, a disputed territory largely controlled by separatists. Each side has accused the other of shelling a village in the area, which included reports of a kindergarten being struck.
Ukrainian officials and the rebels gave conflicting accounts of shelling across the front in the Donbas separatist region. The details couldn’t be established independently, but reports from both sides suggested an incident more serious than the routine ceasefire violations reported regularly in the area.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was “seriously concerned” about reports of an escalation.
On Feb. 17, Peskov told state-run TASS that reports claiming Russia will attack Ukraine on Feb. 20 are false and again criticized Western media outlets.
“It looks like another fake has been coined. I hope that at least you and me will not trust such falsehoods,” he said. “There have been many dates, and far more specific ones.
“All turned out to be falsehoods, irresponsible fakes, but none of their authors eventually acknowledged they were wrong.”
Also on Feb. 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on social media that it believes the United States and NATO “did not give a constructive response to the basic elements of the draft treaty with the United States prepared by the Russian side on security guarantees,” namely, that Ukraine would not join NATO.
“The growing military activity of the United States and NATO directly at Russian borders is alarming,” the ministry also alleged.
Reuters contributed to this report.