Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and R began to unravel after Mosc said Saturday it had expelled two American diplomats and the U.S. revealed it had tossed two Rs in response to an attack on one of its personnel.
State Department John Kirby: "On June 17, we expelled two R officials from the United States to respond to this attack.He was referring to an American diplomat who the spokesman said "was attacked by a R policeman" while trying to enter the U.S. embassy last month in Mosc.
R revealed Saturday it had responded in kind.
According to R State News Agency, the Deputy Foreign Minister said two Americans were declared persona non grata after an "unfriendly move" by the U.S. that was not specified.
The State Department declined to comment directly on that report.
The R news agency also reported on the U.S. expulsion of the two Rs:
"The U.S. government really has demanded the departure of two staff members of the R Embassy in Washington without presenting any complaints to them. And the U.S. State Department at a high level proposed us not to make this fact public. As you can see, American diplomats don't stand by their own words," the foreign minister said, according to the R news agency.
The U.S.-R tit-for-tat comes as the State Department on Friday condemned R security services for an attack on the American diplomat, the latest incident in what U.S. officials said is increasing intimidation of its personnel.
The U.S. diplomat "was attacked by an R policeman" while attempting to enter the American embassy last month in Mosc, US State Department Kirby told reporters, speaking just days after a video of the altercation was broadcast on R TV. "The action was unprovoked and endangered the safety of our employee," he added. Kirby said that R officials' claims that the policeman was attempting to protect the embassy were "simply untrue."
He called this a "very graphic and violent example" of two years of "increased harassment" of U.S. diplomats in R. He noted that Washington had initially sought to handle the affair via direct government-to-government channels but said that officials' public allegations compelled the U.S. to make the rebuke public.
He described R behavior as "unprovoked and unnecessary." "There's no need for this when there's so many more important things for us to be working on with R," he added.
Washington had delivered high-level complaints to Mosc about accusations of increasing intimidation of American diplomats in R, the State Department said in June.
Secretary of State John Kerry last discussed the matter with the R President on March 24, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters last month.
"We see an increase and we take it seriously," she said.
Other Western embassies had reported the same behavior toward their diplomats stationed in Mosc, Trudeau added.
In June, the R Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman said Mosc has "felt a significant increase in pressure on the R Embassy and consulates general of our country in the United States."
According to her, staff members of R's consulate missions abroad "regularly become the objects of provocations by the American secret services, face obstacles in making official contacts and other restrictions," including travel.
Kirby dismissed the R complaints about their U.S.-based diplomats receiving similar treatment, calling the claims "without foundation." The R embassy in the U.S. did not have any immediate comment Saturday.
The diplomatic incident comes after several recent military close calls between R and the United States. In the most recent incident, an R ship last week came within 150 yards of a U.S. Navy vessel that was sailing in the eastern Mediterranean. The U.S. Navy described the maneuver in a statement as unsafe, "erratic" and "aggressive."
A few weeks earlier, an R frigate came within 315 yards of the USS Gravely.
And in April, two R fighter jets flew within 30 feet of the USS Donald C while it was sailing in the Baltic Sea, an action that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned could have led to the jets being shot down.