U.S. Expels 50 Russian Diplomats

ByABC News
March 22, 2001, 11:00 AM

March 22 -- In a return to the days of Cold War games, a diplomatic face-off was launched today between Washington and Moscow with the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats suspected of spying America.

Four Russian diplomats have been declared persona non grata and ordered out of the country in 10 days as a result of the Robert Hanssen spy case and another 46 have been asked to leave by July 1, a senior State Department official said today.

Two other Russian diplomats believed to be directly related to the Hanssen case had already left the country, the official said.

Hanssen, a 25-year FBI veteran, was arrested in a Virginia park on Feb. 18 after allegedly trying to make a dead drop to his Russian handlers. He is accused of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia since 1985.

Today's announcement of the expulsions came a day after Secretary of State Colin Powell called Russian ambassador Yury V. Ushakov to advise him of the action Washington was planning.

While the six Russian diplomats are believed to have direct links with the Hanssen case, the State Department official said the 46 diplomats were expelled partly out of long-standing concerns with the heightened level of Russian intelligence operations in the U.S., which had increased significantly between 1993 and 1997.

'A Political Act'

With the formal announcement made, all eyes were turned to Russia as U.S. officials were expecting Moscow to retaliate to the expulsion order.

In the first direct official response to the order, Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called the expulsions a "political act" and said the U.S. had flimsy grounds for the order.

In a statement read over state-controlled ORT television today, Ivanov expressed regret that Washington had resorted to the expulsion order. "If anyone had any questions or doubts, this could easily have been settled along ... special channels and by special contacts,"he said. "Unfortunately, Washington has chosen another way, so this step cannot be regarded as anything but a political one," Ivanov said.