WASHINGTON – A Washington-based Russian cultural exchange official who reportedly is the target of an FBI investigation is denying that he is a spy, a Russian news agency reported Thursday.
A source in Washington has told The Associated Press that the FBI is looking into whether Yury Zaytsev, the head of a Russian government-run cultural exchange program, tried to recruit young Americans as intelligence assets. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe was still underway.
The probe was first reported by the magazine Mother Jones.
Zaytsev dismissed the accusations as an attempt to hurt ties between Moscow and Washington. "It's a shame that echoes of the Cold War are heard in Russian-American relations from time to time," Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.
An FBI spokesman, Jason Pack, declined to comment on Tuesday.
Evgeniy Khorishko, spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington, also denied the suspicions, telling Itar-Tass that "such horror stories smack of Cold War times."
The magazine Mother Jones, which first reported the story, said the organization run by Zaytsev has footed the bill for about 130 Americans to visit Russia. They included political aides, nonprofit advocates and business executives. The Russian Center for Science and Culture offers language lessons and cultural programming.
Mother Jones said Zaytsev or his associates had begun to build files including one on a participant who had been an adviser to an U.S. state governor.
The magazine said FBI agents have been interviewing Americans who participated in the program. It added that Zaytsev did not travel on the exchange trips he helped arrange, and that his contact with the Americans who went on these trips was limited.