The Russian Foreign Ministry has asked the US Embassy in Moscow to lift the diplomatic immunity of three of its employees suspected of stealing personal effects from a Russian citizen.
The three employees are expected to leave Russia immediately if the United States refuses to lift diplomatic immunity, the Interfax news agency said on Friday, citing the ministry.
According to Interfax, three American citizens of the Moscow embassy under the influence of alcohol stole a backpack from a Russian at a bar in central Moscow.
Moscow police identified the three men as US Marine Corps servicemen between the ages of 21 and 26, the news agency reported, citing police spokesman Vladimir Vasenin.
Russian state-run news agency Tass said the alleged theft occurred on September 18 and reported that the Interior Ministry estimated the value of the stolen items to be just over $ 200.
A criminal case has been opened over the incident and the possible charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Moscow’s move comes days after NATO expelled eight members of the Russian delegation to the military alliance over allegations that these so-called diplomats were acting as spies for the Kremlin.
NATO-Russia relations are at their lowest since the end of the Cold War, and Moscow denounces the decision to undermine the normalization of ties between the US-led military alliance and the Kremlin.
The US mission to NATO declined to comment on the reasons for the expulsion, but Jeff Adler, spokesperson for the US mission to NATO, said: “It was intelligence-based and we didn’t let’s not discuss intelligence matters ”.
The alliance has also reduced the number of Russian representatives eligible to receive NATO accreditation from 20 to 10, the NATO official said.
Tensions are at an all time high between Moscow and Washington over a range of issues, including allegations of interference in the US election and Russia’s human rights record.
Earlier this week, a group of U.S. Republican and Democratic senators called on President Joe Biden to expel up to 300 Russian diplomats from the United States if Moscow does not issue more visas to Americans to represent Washington in Russia.
“Russia must issue enough visas to approach parity between the number of American diplomats serving in Russia and the number of Russian diplomats serving in the United States,” they said.
In response, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow does not have that number of diplomats in Washington, and the proposal appears to include diplomatic staff from the Russian mission to the United Nations.
Russian officials have said that if this proposal is implemented, Russia will force the closure of the US embassy in Moscow.
The dispute is the latest in a series of events between two countries regarding embassy staff. In March, the United States imposed sanctions on seven Russian officials around President Vladimir Putin, blocking their access to various American assets.
In April, Russia ordered 10 American diplomats to leave the country after the United States expelled Russian diplomats and imposed new sanctions on dozens of Russian individuals and companies.
At the time, relations between the two world powers had deteriorated because Biden said he believed Putin was a “killer.”
In response, Moscow advised US Ambassador John Sullivan to travel to Washington for consultations and recalled its own Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov.
In August, Russia banned the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from retaining, hiring, or recruiting Russian or third-country nationals except guards, forcing the mission to lay off 182 employees and dozens of entrepreneurs.
Relations remain frosty, however, two countries have deep differences over many issues such as the situation in Ukraine, arms control, human rights and cybersecurity, but recently Putin and Biden met during their meeting. a high-level summit in June where they agreed it was vital to keep talking despite the differences that divide them.