The FBI suspects the head of a Russian cultural exchange program in Washington of recruiting young Americans as spies, organizing their trips to Russia. The accused diplomat is perplexed by the claims, lamenting a return of Cold War rhetoric.
Russian diplomat Yury Zaitsev who heads the exchange program in the US capital has been flagged by American authorities as a possible spy recruiter.
A leak about the investigation Zaitsev has been published by several US media outlets, including the internet version of the Washington Post and leftist web media outlet Mother Jones.
The unnamed sources in the FBI told journalists that Zaitsev and his associates have organized expenses-paid visits to Russia for about 130 American citizens, mostly nonprofit workers, business people and political aides.
For certain visitors, the Russian side absorbed transportation and accommodation charges, though the Americans do not have information confirming that Zaitsev personally accompanied any of the visitors on their trips to Russia.
The FBI claims the center’s executive has been preparing files on those visiting Russia and could potentially be paving the way for future recruiting of the participants in the exchange program.
There is no mention of any solid proof in favor of this theory. The only apparently suspicious moment in center’s work is that in certain cases the Russian side covered transportation and accommodation expenses.
The Russian government has received the news with perplexity, saying that the “allegations have nothing to do with reality.”
“We believe that these media publications and the actions of the US authorities are unfriendly and are aimed at aggravating the situation in the area of international humanitarian cooperation,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Russia urged US authorities to distance themselves from the “malicious attempts to cast a shadow on the activities” of the Russian Centre for Science and Culture in Washington.
“We expect that in further comments on this issue, the US will reiterate its commitment to a progressive course of joint work in this area,” the ministry said.
After the incident, Russian diplomats said that Cold War rhetoric had again become come part of bilateral relations.
“It’s a shame that the Cold War echoes from time to time in Russian-American relations,” Zaitsev said, exclusively to ITAR-TASS. “Someone must be itching to drop an iron curtain between our countries again,” he said.
The services promoted by the Russian Center for Science and Culture are “absolutely overt” and no less transparent than similar US programs promoted in Russia, Zaitsev stressed.