MOSCOW – US diplomats have been removed from a train while traveling through a restricted area in Russia, which houses major military sites for the Russian Navy. Moscow confirmed they were on an official visit, but ended up in a wrong place.
The Americans were traveling from the northern town of Nenoksa to Severodvinsk on Monday, it has been reported. The diplomats are said to include a US naval attaché and two other military attachés, RT reported.
As one could have already been bracing for a spy thriller, the US embassy confirmed the incident. Yet, it brushed off allegations that the staff were in breach of any rules. The American mission claimed the group was on an official visit, authorized by the Russian Ministry of Defense.
The Russian Foreign Ministry officially has no objections to that part of the story. “We fully confirm the comment of the US embassy,” a statement read. But Moscow had a bone to pick with the claim that the visit – as it was – was greenlit by the Russian MoD.
According to the Russian side, US diplomats merely asked the MoD for permission to travel to the city of Arkhangelsk and not Severodvinsk. The communities are located some 45 kilometers from each other. That said, Moscow also tried to add some humor to the story.
“Apparently, they got lost. We are ready to present the US embassy with a map of the Russian Federation,” Moscow said.
Severodvinsk has a major shipyard for Russia’s Northern Fleet, as well as hosting a base for nuclear-powered submarines. Meanwhile, Nenoksa is home to a secretive military testing ground which has recently generated more than a few international and local headlines.
In August, a prototype missile engine with an “isotope power source” exploded during trials, killing five people. The ill-fated tests prompted rumors of “radiation leaks”, while tabloids were quick to brand the incident a “new Chernobyl”. The Russian Defense Ministry denied the alleged leak and refuted reports of a large nuclear clean-up operation.
Earlier this year, former Norwegian border guard Frode Berg received a 14-year jail term in Russia for harvesting secret data about the subs and “harming the defensive capabilities of the Russian Federation”. The Norwegian national – who was acting on behalf of the country’s intelligence – was first detained by Russian counter-intelligence operatives back in 2017.