U.S. expelled two Russian officials after 'attack' on U.S. diplomat

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expelled two Russian officials on June 17 in response to what it described as a Russian policeman’s attack on a U.S. diplomat in Moscow earlier in the month, the State Department said.

“On June 17, we expelled two Russian officials from the United States in response to this attack,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters, declining to provide further details about the expulsions.

In his first detailed comments about the June 6 incident, Kirby contradicted the account provided by Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which said the policeman was trying to protect the embassy by checking the man’s documents.

“On the 6th of June an accredited U.S. diplomat, who identified himself, in accordance with embassy protocols entering the American embassy compound, was attacked by a Russian policeman,” Kirby told reporters.

“The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee. The Russian claim the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue,” he added.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman has said the police officer had wanted to check the man’s documents to establish he was not a threat to embassy security, but was elbowed in the face when he tried to challenge him. She said the embassy employee was a CIA agent operating under diplomatic cover.

Washington, whose dealings with Moscow have been strained by the Syrian civil war, Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and U.S. allegations that Moscow has increasingly harassed its diplomats, had tried to deal with the issue quietly.

On Thursday, Kirby disclosed that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had raised the incident with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on June 7 and said that Washington wanted to deal with it in private talks between the governments.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Eric Beech and Sandra Maler