The head of a Washington DC-based Russian cultural center is denying allegations that he used the organization to recruit American spies.
The FBI is investigation whether the Rossotrudnichestvo cultural center run by Yury Zaytsev used the young Americans his organization sent on all-expenses-paid trips to Russia as spying assets.
Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quoted Zaytsev as saying, "It's a shame that echoes of the cold war are heard in Russian-American relations from time to time."
The investigation into Zaytsev and Rossotrudnichestvo was first reported by the magazine Mother Jones.
According to Mother Jones, FBI suspects Zaytsev built files on young Americans they believed could be turned into 'assets,' which the magazine describes as "someone who actually works with an intelligence service to gather information, or merely a contact who provides information, opinions, or gossip, not realizing it is being collected by an intelligence officer."
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Richard Portwood, the executive director of the Center for American-Russian Engagement of Emerging Leaders and a participant in the cultural exchange program, told the Washington Post that he was interviewed by the FBI this month.
"These revelations came as a total surprise," Portwood said in a statement.
"My sincere hope is that Mr. Zaytsev’s alleged activities do not prevent U.S.-Russia cultural exchanges in the future."
Late Wednesday evening, the Russian Embassy provided a statement to Mother Jones calling the allegations "scaring information" that "very much resembles Cold War era".
"A blunt tentative is made to distort and to blacken activities of the Russian Cultural Center in DC, which are aimed at developing mutual trust and cooperation between our peoples and countries," the statement said.
Zaytsev is named on a State Department list of foreign mission staff and has diplomatic immunity.