By Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler, CNN
The United States on Thursday accused Russia of having expelled the second-most senior diplomat at the US embassy in Moscow without any justification, calling it an “escalatory” move at a time of heightened alert over the Ukraine crisis.
US Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow Bart Gorman, who is second only to the ambassador at the embassy, was expelled by Russia earlier this year and given two weeks to depart the country, according to a senior US State Department official.
Gorman left Russia last week and has returned to the United States, the official said.
This diplomatic issue comes to the fore amid growing concerns about a Russian invasion of Ukraine and President Joe Biden’s warning on Thursday that the US has “every indication” that Russia plans to attack Ukraine “in the next several days.”
A US State Department spokesperson on Thursday confirmed Russia had expelled Gorman and said the action was “unprovoked.”
“We consider this an escalatory step and are considering our response,” the spokesperson said.
Russia has continually forced the US to reduce the size of its diplomatic footprint in the country in recent years.
Gorman had been in Russia fewer three years with a valid visa and his tour had not ended, the spokesperson said, also noting that Gorman is a key member of the embassy’s senior leadership team.
“We call on Russia to end its baseless expulsions of US diplomats and staff and to work productively to rebuild our missions,” the spokesperson said.
The White House on Thursday echoed the State Department’s assessment that this was an “escalatory step” and was “unprovoked.”
“Now more than ever, it is critical that our countries have the necessary diplomatic personnel in place to facilitate communication between our governments,” White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One.
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CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.