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U.S. expels 12 Russian diplomats at United Nations, citing "espionage activities"

U.S. expands Russia sanctions
U.S. expands Russia sanctions, targets Central Bank 02:19

Washington — The United States has ordered the expulsion of 12 diplomats from Russia's Mission to the United Nations for engaging in "espionage activities" that are harmful to U.S. national security, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations announced Monday.

"The United States has informed the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations that we are beginning the process of expelling 12 intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security," the spokeswoman, Olivia Dalton, said in a statement. "We are taking this action in accordance with the UN Headquarters Agreement. This action has been in development for several months."

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia received word of the expulsions through a phone call he received while participating in a press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York and said the Russian U.N. diplomats — whose identities he did not know — were instructed to leave the U.S. by March 7.

Nebenzia accused the U.S. of taking "hostile" action against the Russian Mission and "grossly violating their commitments of the host country agreement."

"This is sad news and again another demonstration of gross disrespect to the host country agreement," he told reporters at the U.N.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated the action by the U.S. has been "in the works for months."

In response to Nebenzia's criticisms of the move, Psaki said, "I think the hostile act is committing espionage activities on our own soil."

Expulsion of the 12 Russian U.N. diplomats comes as the U.S., along with European allies, have imposed a series of financial sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs in response to the invasion of Ukraine. The Biden administration on Friday sanctioned Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov directly and on Saturday announced the U.S. and European partners agreed to cut certain Russian banks from the SWIFT financial messaging system. 

Earlier Monday, the Biden administration expanded its sanctions against Russia with new measures targeting its Central Bank, which immobilize any assets it holds in the U.S.

The economic measures are intended to impose severe costs on Russia for its continued aggression against Ukraine by cutting it off from the global financial system and global economy.

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