Russia’s FSB security service said it had detained a Ukrainian diplomat, accusing him of receiving sensitive information from a Russian national.
In recent years Russia has detained a number of Ukrainian nationals on suspicion of spying but the detention of a diplomat is rare and seen as a sign of sharply rising tensions.
“A Ukrainian diplomat, a consul of Ukraine’s consulate general in St Petersburg, Alexander Sosonyuk, has been detained by Russia’s FSB,” the security service said, using the Russian-language spelling of his name. He had been detained on Friday, the FSB said.
Kyiv confirmed the diplomat had spent several hours in detention and was now back in the Ukrainian diplomatic mission.
The FSB said Sosonyuk had been caught “red-handed” during a meeting with a Russian national as he sought to receive “classified” information.
“Such activity is not compatible with his diplomatic status and is of clearly hostile nature towards the Russian Federation,” the FSB said. “In conformity with international law, measures will be taken against the foreign diplomat.”
In Kyiv, Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Oleg Nikolenko, put the incident to rising tensions between the two countries. “This is yet another provocation amid Russia’s destabilising activities,” he told Agence France-Presse in a statement.
He said Kyiv was looking into the incident and would respond in the near future.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have escalated in recent weeks, with Kyiv accusing Moscow of massing troops on its border and seeking to destroy “Ukrainian statehood”.
Kyiv has been battling Russia-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine since 2014 and clashes have intensified since the start of the year, shredding a ceasefire agreed last July.
Concern has been mounting that the long-simmering conflict could spiral back into wider fighting, and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has asked the west for help.