Russian plane lands in US to remove diplomats expelled for alleged espionage

A Russian plane lands at Washington’s international airport to pick up about a dozen diplomats from Moscow’s UN mission who are accused by Washington of espionage, authorities say.

The United States closed its airspace to all Russian aircraft after Moscow invaded Ukraine.

The Ilyushin Il-96 aircraft was allowed, however, to land at Dulles International Airport. The landing is confirmed by the FlightAware website, which tracks air movement.

“The US government approved a flight chartered by the Russian government to facilitate the departure of Russian UN Mission personnel who were expelled for abuse of their privileges of residence,” a State Department spokesman tells AFP.

“This special exception was done… to ensure Russian mission personnel and their families departed by the date we had instructed,” the spokesman adds.

The US called on Monday for the expulsion of 12 members of Russia’s UN mission by March 7.

A day later, again citing alleged espionage, the US ordered the expulsion of a Russian national working for the UN secretariat.

“This is a hostile move against our country,” the Russian ambassador to the US Anatoli Antonov says in a Facebook message, adding that Moscow “totally rejected” the US claims.

The Russian mission employs about 100 people, according to a Russian diplomatic source.

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