US officials accused 12 Russian diplomats at the United Nations of "espionage activities" on Monday and asked them to leave the country. The US said the expulsions had been in the works for months, long before Russia invaded Ukraine, CNN reports. But Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the UN, labeled the American explanation "not satisfactory." In a press conference, Nebenzia referred to the move as "another hostile action" and said, "This is sad news and again another demonstration of gross disrespect to the host country agreement."
At the White House, per CBS News, press secretary Jen Psaki answered, "I think the hostile act is committing espionage activities on our own soil." A spokeswoman for the US mission to the UN had said 12 intelligence operatives "abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security." Ambassador Richard Mills, US deputy representative, made the announcement during a Security Council meeting.
Nebenzia said he didn't know the names of the 12 Russians being expelled yet but said US officials said they're supposed to leave by March 7. "They just visited the Russian Mission and gave us a note prescribing us to do what they demand," he said. The US expelled the No. 2 diplomat at the Russian Embassy last week, an answer to Russia's expulsion of the second-highest US diplomat at the US embassy in Moscow earlier. Asked Monday if Russia would respond similarly to the UN expulsions, per the AP, Nebenzia said, "That's not for me to decide but in the diplomatic practice, that’s a normal thing." (Read more US-Russia relations stories.)