If a Russian diplomat offers a young, up-and-coming professional in Washington an all-expenses paid trip to the mother country, complete with fancy hotels, drinks, and meetings with Vladimir Putin's political underlings, well, that guy just might be a spy. Just ask the participants of Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russian government-run cultural exchange program that has ferried over 100 Americans on extravagant trips abroad since 2011 and, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is run by a Russian spy.
According to three Americans who traveled to Russia through the group who spoke to Mother Jones, the FBI are investigating Yury Zaytsev, the group's U.S. director, for using the organization to amass intelligence assets through their exchange program. Zaytzev also runs the Russian Cultural Center in Washington. All three Americans said the FBI sought them out for questioning after their trips.
The FBI thinks Zaytzev uses the trips to woo young Washingtonians. The Washington Post reports Zaytzev "created files on some of the participants, allegedly to cultivate them as future intelligence assets." The Post adds there's no indication Zaytzev, who has diplomatic immunity, was successful in converting these Americans into intelligence assets.
"It passed the smell test," 27-year-old Georgetown University graduate student Richard Portwood told Mother Jones. "But I guess Russia's Russia, you know?" Portwood has a good point, and he's an expert in the field. He's the Executive Director for the Center for American-Russian Engagement of Emerging Leaders. And he was this hooked up on his Rossotrudnichestvo trip:
The organization paid for meals, travel, lodging, and every other expense associated with the trip, down to the visa fee. During the St. Petersburg leg of a June 2012 trip, participants stayed at the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge, a luxury hotel that has hosted delegations for the G8 and G20 summits. Participants on that trip met with the governors of Moscow and St. Petersburg and with Aleksander Torshin, a high-ranking member of Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.
Yeah, we might overlook the guy potentially being a spy for that kind of free service, too.