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WASHINGTON, October 24 (Itar-Tass) - Representative of Russia’s Federal Agency for Cooperation with Fellow-Countrymen Abroad (Rossotrudnichestvo) in Washington, Yury Zaytsev, has expressed astonishment over publications in the U.S. media saying that the FBI suspects him of working for the Russian intelligence services.
Reports on Zaytsev’s alleged illegal activities were put up by several US media at a time, including the Internet version of The Washington Post, which mentioned unnamed law enforcement officials as the sources of information.
According to the newspaper, FBI agents have been interviewing Americans who participated in the Rossotrudnichestvo exchange program run by Zaytsev, who also heads the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Washington.
“Law enforcement officials said the FBI is investigating whether Zaytsev and Rossotrudnichestvo have used trips to Russia (sponsored by the Center - Itar-Tass) to recruit Americans,” the article said.
It went on to say that Rossotrudnichestvo had paid for all their expenses, including meals, travel, visa fees and lodging. Most of the trips involved about 25 participants, who sometimes allegedly stayed in luxury hotels and met with Russian government officials.
Yury Zaytsev strongly denied any such allegations. “It’s highly regrettable that echoes of the Cold War regularly surface in Russian-American relations at present,” he told Itar-Tass.
“It looks like some milieus have an itch to separate our two countries by an iron curtain again,” Zaytsev said.
No comments from FBI
As for the FBI, it acted in line with its longtime tradition of refraining from comments on reports of that kind. Amy Thoreson, the agency’s official spokeswoman refused to make any definite comment on suspicions regarding Zaytsev or clarify what actions were being taken in this connection.
“A significant responsibility of our Center is that of strengthening the positions of Russian culture, while familiarizing overseas citizens with the richest Russian cultural heritage and modern Russian art,” Zaytsev wrote on the Web site of the center.
“The Russian Cultural Centers possess a system of operations for supporting the Russian language abroad, promoting Russian educational services, increasing cooperation between educational institutions in partner countries, as well as working with graduates of Russian (and Soviet) universities,” his message said.
Itar-Tass visited the official website of Rossotrudnichestvo which confirmed Zaytsev's statement. It indeed gives a detailed account of the agency's operation and quarterly spending.
Yevgeny Khorishko, a spokesman for Russia’s Embassy in Washington refuted the assertions that the cultural center might have been involved in the recruitment of agents for the Russian intelligence services
“All such ‘scaring information’ very much resembles Cold War era,” he said in an e-mail, adding that the revelations of this type were being leveled only to “distort and to blacken activities of the Russian Cultural Center.”
In this case, it is actually an attempt to foil the guideline by the Russian and U.S. presidents, who underlined in a joint statement in Lough Erne that expanding direct communication between Russians and Americans would help strengthen mutual understanding and confidence and allow to take Russian-U.S. relations to a new level.
"The Russian cultural center has worked towards expanding contacts between Russian and U.S. citizens and will continue this work," the Embassy spokesman told Itar-Tass.
Judging by the U.S. publications, the FBI has no direct proof of Zaytsev's involvement in espionage. All the suspicions are based on the information that he arranged trips for Americans to Russia, while their expenses, including transport and living expenses were paid for by Rossotrudnichestvo. Zaytsev did not take part in these trips. But the newspaper's law-enforcement sources claimed Zaytsev had kept files on certain Americans leaving for Russia under various exchange programs.
Zaytsev compared the allegations to a "witch hunt." "They are pestering boys and girls who visited Russia, demanding that they tell them all that happened. That is, they are creating some fear of Russia in the society... I believe such things should never be allowed," he said.
The Federal Agency for The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation was founded by presidential decree in September 2008. It is represented in 77 countries by 59 Russian centers of science and culture, eight Rossotrudnichestvo branches and 18 representatives as members of diplomatic missions. The agency says it operates on a vast territory from the USA to Japan and from Finland to Argentina.