Russia has expelled Bart Gorman, the No. 2 US official in Moscow, a State Department spokesperson said on Thursday (17 February), with Washington calling the banishment unprovoked and warning of an American response amid heightened fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Gorman, who serves as US deputy chief of mission to Russia, left Russia last week, a senior State Department official said. It was unclear why the expulsion was not announced until Thursday.
“Russia’s action against our DCM (deputy chief of mission) was unprovoked and we consider this an escalatory step and are considering our response,” the State Department spokesperson said.
It was not immediately clear what justification Moscow gave for the expulsion but it comes during a months-long standoff over a Russian buildup of more than 150,000 troops near its border with Ukraine.
US officials warned that the risk of a Russian invasion remains high and that Russia may attempt to fabricate a pretext for a conflict, despite Moscow saying it was moving some of its troops away from the border.
Gorman, the second most senior US official at the Embassy in Moscow, previously served as the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary and assistant director for threat investigations and analysis, overseeing monitoring of threats against US diplomatic personnel, according to a biography on the embassy’s website.
He has also served as a regional security officer of the US Diplomatic Security Service, the department’s law enforcement and security arm, in countries including Iraq, Jordan and China, the biography said.
Alongside the border tensions, the United States and Russia have been engaged in a tussle over their respective diplomatic presences in each others’ capitals. Moscow said in December that US Embassy staff who have been in the post for more than three years should return home.
The State Department spokesperson said Gorman had a valid visa and had been in Russia for less than three years.
“We call on Russia to end its baseless expulsions of US diplomats and staff and to work productively to rebuild our missions,” the spokesperson added. “Now more than ever, it is critical that our countries have the necessary diplomatic personnel in place to facilitate communication between our governments. ”