U.S. citizens try to illegally enter Severodvinsk
A new diplomatic row has sparked in Russia: three U.S. diplomats were removed from a train running between Nyonoksa and Severodvinsk in Russia's Arkhangelsk Region after being suspected of violating travel rules for foreigners in Russia.
U.S. embassy's spokeswoman Rebecca Ross said that the diplomats had properly filed a travel notification with the Russian Defence Ministry.
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the U.S. diplomats were on an official trip, but notified the Russian Defence Ministry only of their plans to visit Arkhangelsk.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Ivanov said Russia’s Foreign Ministry will send a note to the U.S. Embassy today after an incident with U.S. diplomats in Severodvinsk, who are suspected of breaching travel rules.
"We are going to send it today," TASS cited the high-ranking diplomat as saying.
According to the deputy foreign minister, the only consequence the U.S. diplomats could face was filing administrative protocols. "These are the embassy’s staff members and as I understand they work for the military attache, and enjoy immunity," he explained. The senior diplomat also confirmed that the trip had been coordinated, but its destination was Arkhangelsk, not Severodvinsk.
"Some administrative protocols will be drawn up, but they enjoy immunity, so I think just checks will be conducted to find out how this had happened," TASS cited Ivanov as saying.
A source in the law enforcement agencies said earlier that the incident took place on October 14. The U.S. diplomats are suspected of an administrative offence under Article 18.8 of Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences ("violating by a foreign citizen or a stateless person the rules for entry to the Russian Federation or the regimen for staying (residing) in the Russian Federation").
A State Department spokesperson earlier said that the diplomats had "properly notified" the Russian authorities, namely the Russian Defense Ministry, of their travel plans. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the diplomats had announced an intention to visit Arkhangelsk, but instead found themselves on the way to Severodvinsk.
A military observer of the TASS news agency, retired Colonel Viktor Litovkin, speaking to Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that there are many Russian military facilities near Severodvinsk that are of interest to American intelligence. "I think that, first of all, they wanted to visit our sea-launched ballistic missile testing ground, where there was a recent fire and explosion, our testers died - the Americans wanted to find out what happened there. In general, Severodvinsk is the largest construction base for our strategic and multipurpose nuclear submarines, which are extremely interesting objects for American intelligence," he said.
"It’s clear that these are all professional intelligence officers. They tried to confuse our special bodies in order to enter territories that were closed not only to foreign citizens, but also to our people, who were not related to either the training ground or the enterprise for the construction of the most modern nuclear submarines boats. This super impudence is an attempt to show, on the one hand, that they can do anything, and on the other hand, that Russia is not able to protect its state military secrets. However, this attempt failed," Victor Litovkin stressed.
President of the International Association of Veterans of the Alpha Anti-Terrorism Unit Sergey Goncharov recalled that Severodvinsk, like other strategic objects of Russia, has always been under the scrutiny of American spies. "There is nothing surprising in the fact that they tried to enter Severodvinsk. To date, the Americans have intensified their intelligence activities because Washington understands that the confrontation between Russia and the U.S. has reached a very serious level," he said.
"I am inclined to think that it was a reconnaissance trip or a test drive for future reconnaissance," Sergey Goncharov drew attention.