Kremlin Plays Down Reports of U.S. Spy in Russian President’s Office

MOSCOW (Reuters) -
Cars drive by the Kremlin, which acknowledges but downplays reports of a CIA spy operating there until 2017. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

The Kremlin on Tuesday played down U.S. media reports of a CIA spy inside Russia’s presidential administration, calling them “pulp fiction,” but said a low-level official, who Russian media suggested was the agent, had worked there before being fired.

CNN reported on Monday that the United States had successfully extracted one of its highest-level covert sources inside Russia in 2017. The New York Times later said the informant had sent secrets to Washington for decades.

Russian daily newspaper Kommersant said on Tuesday the official may have been a man called Oleg Smolenkov, who is reported to have disappeared with his wife and three children while on vacation in Montenegro in 2017, and is now reported to be living in the United States.

Kommersant published a picture of a house in Virginia which it said had been bought by a man called Smolenkov in 2018.

Asked about the matter, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Smolenkov had in fact worked in the Russian presidential administration, but had been fired in 2016/17.

“It is true that Smolenkov worked in the presidential administration, but he was fired several years ago. His job was not at a senior official level,” he said.

Smolenkov did not have direct access to President Vladimir Putin, Peskov added, declining with a laugh to confirm whether he had been a U.S. agent or not.

“I can’t confirm that … I don’t know whether he was an agent. I can only confirm that there was such a person in the presidential administration, who was later sacked. All this U.S. media speculation about who urgently extracted who and saved who from who and so on – this is more the genre of pulp fiction, crime reading, so let’s leave it up to them,” said Peskov.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said separately on Tuesday he had never heard of Smolenkov.

“I have never seen this man, have never met him, and have never monitored his career or movements,” Lavrov said.

CNN reported on Monday that the U.S. decision to extract its informant had occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which U.S. President Donald Trump had discussed highly classified intelligence with Lavrov.

Lavrov said on Tuesday that nobody had divulged any secrets to him at the meeting with Trump.

U.S. officials had no immediate comment.