Russia’s FSB security service said it arrested a Ukrainian diplomat, accusing him of receiving sensitive information from a Russian national.
In recent years, Russia has arrested a number of Ukrainian nationals on suspicion of espionage, but the detention of a diplomat is rare and seen as a sign of rising tensions.
“A Ukrainian diplomat, a consul of the Ukrainian consulate general in St. Petersburg, Alexander Sosonyuk, has been arrested by the Russian FSB,” the security service said, using the Russian spelling of his name. He was arrested on Friday, the FSB said.
Kiev confirmed that the diplomat had spent several hours in detention and was now back in the Ukrainian diplomatic mission.
The FSB said Sosonyuk was caught “hand in the bag” during a meeting with a Russian national as he sought to receive “classified” information.
“Such activity is not compatible with its diplomatic status and is manifestly hostile in nature towards the Russian Federation,” said the FSB. “In accordance with international law, action will be taken against the foreign diplomat.”
In Kiev, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Oleg Nikolenko, put the incident on the rise of tensions between the two countries. “This is another provocation in the midst of the destabilizing activities of Russia,” he told Agence France-Presse in a statement.
He said Kiev is looking into the incident and will respond in the near future.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have intensified in recent weeks, with Kiev accusing Moscow of massing troops on its border and seeking to destroy “the Ukrainian state”.
Kiev has been battling Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and clashes have escalated since the start of the year, destroying a ceasefire agreed to last July.
Concern is growing that the long-simmering conflict could revert to broader fighting and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has asked the West for help.