Russia denied U.S. media reports of an alleged attempt to recruit Americans by the head of a Russian state-run cultural exchange program in Washington, saying the accounts contained “fabrications.”
Publication of the reports is an “unfriendly” act, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on its website today, urging the U.S. to avoid “ill-intentioned efforts to cast a shadow” on the activities of the Russian embassy’s cultural center.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been interviewing U.S. citizens who took part in the exchange program run by Russian diplomat Yury Zaytsev, the Washington Post reported, citing unidentified American law enforcement officials.
Strains between the U.S. and Russia deepened after the Russian government gave asylum to fugitive former U.S. government security contractor Edward Snowden in August. Three months earlier, Russian authorities expelled a U.S. official they accused of being a CIA officer who offered a member of the special services in Moscow as much as $1 million a year for information.
Zaytsev, who is the head of the Rossotrudnichestvo exchange program as well as of the embassy’s Russian Center for Science and Culture in Washington, denied the accusations. He said they smacked of the Cold War era, according to an interview with state-run news service Itar-Tass.
Mother Jones first reported the FBI probe, citing former exchange program participants who said they had been questioned by agents about Zaytsev. He set up files on some of the Americans, with the possible aim of using them later as intelligence sources, the Washington Post reported, citing a law-enforcement official.
Rossotrudnichestvo has paid for about 1000 people from 50 countries to visit Russia and meet high-level officials in the past three years, the Russian Foreign Ministry said. About 130 young Americans have taken part in the program over the last 12 years, the Washington Post said.
“The Russian side believes that this is totally in line with the tasks set at the highest political level for cultural-humanitarian exchanges and strengthening contacts between people,” the Foreign Ministry said.
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