It all started with a grainy 15 second clip on Russia's NTV channel, which showed footage of a policeman tackling a man the report said was an undercover CIA agent trying to enter the U.S. embassy in Moscow without identifying himself.
As shown in the video below, the man exits a taxi and was promptly tackled by a policeman who emerges from a guard box. In the ensuing struggle, the man manages to push himself through a door into the embassy compound, while the officer attempts to pin him down.
The incident, which took place at night on June 6, was caught on a security camera, according to the report shown Thursday on Russia’s NTV channel. The channel didn’t describe how it obtained the footage.
As a result of the footage, which promptly went viral, the US state department ssaid it had expelled two Russian diplomats in response to the recorded attack. Spokesman John Kirby said the two officials - who have not been named - were told to leave on 17 June. "The action was unprovoked," he said.
"On 17 June, we expelled two Russian officials from the United States to respond to this attack," Kirby said on Friday. "The action was unprovoked and it endangered the safety of our employee. The Russian claim that the policeman was protecting the embassy from an unidentified individual is simply untrue."
Russia said earlier this week that the US official was a CIA agent who had refused to provide his identification papers and hit the policeman in the face. "Instead of the CIA employee, who was in disguise, as we understand, it could have been anyone - a terrorist, an extremist, a suicide bomber," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Last month, US officials said harassment against US diplomats by Russian security and intelligence services was on the rise. Russia has denied the allegation.
Whatever the motive behind the initial tackle, Russia quickly responded and early Saturday, Moscow said it had expelled two U.S. Embassy staff members in June after a similar 'unfriendly' move by Washington, Reuters reports.
One of the expelled diplomats was involved in an incident with a Russian policeman near the U.S. Embassy entrance in Moscow, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, citing Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov
Another diplomat was "also a CIA operative", Ryabkov said.
This takes place one day after Obama announced, during a NATO summit in Warsaw, that the US is sending another 1,000 troops to Poland as part of the alliance's efforts to "counter Russia."