Washington — The Russian government expelled the second highest-ranking American official from the US Embassy in Moscow, the State Department said, as President Biden warned that the threat of aremains “very high.”
Bart Gorman, the US deputy chief of mission to Russia, was expelled from the Russian capital on Thursday, a State Department spokesperson said.
“Russia’s action against [Gorman] was unprovoked and we consider this an escalatory step and are considering our response,” the spokesperson said in a statement, raising the prospect of retaliatory expulsions from Russia’s embassy in Washington.
“We call on Russia to end its baseless expulsions of US diplomats and staff and to work productively to rebuild our missions,” the statement continued. “Now more than ever, it is critical that our countries have the necessary diplomatic personnel in place to facilitate communication between our governments.”
Gorman had a valid visa and had been in the country for less than three years, the spokesperson said.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the expulsion, and said it came in response to US orders for Russian diplomats to leave the US at the end of last month.
“The American diplomat was indeed ordered to leave Russia, but strictly in response to the unreasonable expulsion of the Minister-Counsellor of our Embassy in Washington, despite his status as a leading official,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to an automated translation of a Russian statement on the ministry’s website.
In December, the State Department said dozens of Russian diplomats who had been in the country for more than three years would be required to leave the country, with one batch forced to leave by the end of January and another due to depart at the end of Jun. At the time, a State Department spokesperson said the move was “not punitive” and was intended “to enable greater parity between the US and Russian bilateral missions.”
Gorman’s expulsion comes as the US and NATO warn that Russia is preparing for an invasion and ramping up its troop presence on the Ukrainian border, despite Russian assurances earlier in the week that it was removing forces.
Tensionson Thursday amid reports of shelling in the Donbas region, a disputed territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. Both sides accused the other of violating a longstanding ceasefire, and the fighting reiterated fears that Russia could use the violence as a pretext for a broader invasion. US officials have warned for weeks that Russia could conduct a “false-flag” operation to justify moving troops into Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mr. Biden said he believed Russia would launch an invasion “in the next several days.”
“We have reason to believe they’re engaged in a false-flag operation to have an excuse to go in,” Mr. Biden said. “Every indication we have is they’re prepared to go into Ukraine.”