The Russian government on Friday announced the removal of three diplomats from the US embassy in Moscow, accusing them of involvement in a robbery.
The announcement comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Moscow, just days after NATO decided to withdraw the accreditation of eight members of the Russian mission in Brussels accused of spying.
Russia has sent a memorandum to the US embassy urging it to lift the diplomatic ban on three US embassy staff, “said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The senior official said the staff were suspected of having “stolen personal belongings of a Russian citizen.”
The ministry said that if the US refused to comply with the request, the people would “immediately leave Russia.”
The Moscow police received a complaint from the official TASS news agency that a bag had been stolen from a Moscow bar.
The agency’s surveillance cameras have captured three U.S. Marines – U.S. embassy staff in Russia, aged 21 to 26 – with stolen goods.
According to the evidence, the amount of the theft is estimated at 15,000 rubles (about 180 euros).
Authorities have launched an investigation into the theft, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison in Russia.
The robbery took place on September 18 and U.S. citizens were “drunk,” according to the Interfox agency, citing police evidence.
Already tense relations between Russia and the United States have deteriorated with President Joe Biden, who stepped up pressure on the Kremlin after the January election.
In May, Russia called the United States a “friendly” country.
However, there were some signs of peace during the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden in Geneva in June, with the ambassadors of the two countries returning to their posts several months later for “consultation”.