A plane Russia sent to the US to pick up 13 expelled Russian diplomats, accused of being spies, is returning back to Russia on Monday according to flight tracking information.
The plane, an Ilyushin Il-96, left Moscow en route to St. Petersburg on Friday night and arrived at Dulles Airport outside Washington at 2:10 p.m. local time on Saturday.
After a flight on Sunday afternoon to New York’s JFK airport, the plane left for Moscow at 7:32 p.m. on Sunday night, a flight of 4,700 miles. It is due to land in Russia at around 1:30 p.m. Moscow time on Monday.
President Joe Biden announced in his State of the Union on Tuesday that American airspace was closed to Russian planes, but the U.S. government is making an exception so the expelled Russians can go home.
Biden administration officials pointed to Russian Foreign Ministry comments in which their spokesperson said a plane was sent to pick up the “diplomats.”
Plane sent to pick up diplomats accused of being spies
“The U.S. 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,” said a State Department spokesperson.
“This special exception was done in accordance with federal regulations to ensure Russian mission personnel and their families departed by the date we had instructed.”
On Feb. 28, the U.S. mission to the United Nations announced it was expelling the diplomats, which it accused of spying on the United States.
“We are beginning the process of expelling 12 intelligence operatives from the Russian Mission who have abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security,” the mission said at the time in a statement, noting the move had been in development for “several months.”