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politics

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The curious case of Oleg Smolenkov: new details on the alleged US spy

On September 9, citing “multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge", CNN reported on the US spy who was evacuated from Kremlin several years ago.

Then, on September 10, Russian "Kommersant" stated that the aforementioned spy allegedly was Oleg Smolenkov – former Kremlin senior official. He went missing in Montenegro in 2017.

Apostrophe International gathered known information about the case.

Why Oleg Smolenkov is an alleged spy?

Mr. Smolenkov is a Russian official. In 2017, Daily Strom reported that he and his wife Antonina went missing in Montenegro. At that time, it was rumored that Smolenkov was murdered. While criminal proceedings were initiated, it was later confirmed that the man is alive and resides at the unknown location. According to The Washington Post, Russian journalists discovered that Oleg and Antonina Smolenkovs acquired a 760 sq. m. house in American Stafford (Virginia), which costs about $925,000. According to the local real estate website, it has 6 bedrooms and 6 full/2 half baths, 2 story foyer, a home theater, etc. The family bought the house on July 5, 2018.

One of the NBC correspondents attempted to visit Smolenkovs at their new house. After he knocked on the door, another SUV parked immediately adjacent to the correspondent’s car. Two men then identified themselves as the owners' friends, asking what he was doing at the house. As NBS journalist concluded, both spouses are openly living under US governmental protection.

What could the US spy do?

The extent to which Smolenkov’s activity went is highly speculated. Some say the man had wide access to official documents, even being able to take pictures of President Vladimir Putin’s table. Others suppose Smolenkov dealt with travel arrangements, car acquisitions and other personal orders, not having access to any important information.

As the information agency RIA reported, citing an unnamed source, he also “used to drink alcohol a little bit more than one normally would. Not too much but rather often.”

In 2000s, Smolenkov worked for the Russian Embassy in the US. His former boss ambassador Yuri Ushakov left the position in 2008 and now is Putin’s international affairs assistant. Smolenkov left the Embassy with him, taking a position in Kremlin. Ushakov, in turn, has direct access to Putin. Including the former ambassador’s close relations with Smolenkov, the spy’s harm to Kremlin might be substantial.

As The New York Times reported, Smolenkov had allegedly been recruited “decades” ago, while still climbing the career ladder. When the scandal with Russia’s interference in the US 2016 election broke out, he became one of the most important CIA agents. The US intelligence called Putin a person responsible for the interference, relying on insider information from Kremlin. According to the media, the CIA's source was not close to the Kremlin leader but was familiar with Kremlin decisions.

Why Smolenkov allegedly had to retire?

There are several reasons. CNN assumed the main reason lies with Donald Trump’s careless behavior regarding intelligence information. The President has allegedly disclosed a piece of important information on Syrian ISIS military forces, which was received from the Israeli intelligence service during a meeting with Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov.

Other sources speculated Smolenkov retired due to the CIA suspecting him of being a double agent working for Russia. In the winter of 2016, the CIA decided to withdraw Smolenkov from Kremlin. The spy, however, rejected the proposal due to "family matters", which raised more doubts in American officials. Nevertheless, he agreed to leave Russia later.

Another reason might be the journalists’ pressure after the official information about a CIA source in Kremlin. American officials may have decided that the spy’s further service might be dangerous for their agent.

How did both sided officially respond?

Russian reaction has been rather controversial. Some officials stated Smolenkov had never worked in the Embassy or in Kremlin. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov said he had never heard of Smolenkov.

"I have never seen the man, have never met him and have never monitored his career or movements," Lavrov asserted.

Putin's press secretary Dmitriy Peskov, however, confirmed Smolenkov had actually worked in the presidential administration and left a couple of years ago.

“This is, you know, a genre of 'Pulp Fiction’,” he added about the evacuation of the alleged US spy.

The US official recognized that CNN report might have endangered the spy's life.

"CNN's narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. Misguided speculation that the President's handling of our nation's most sensitive intelligence – which he has access to each and every day – drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate,” the CIA Director of Public Affairs Brittany Bramell stated.

“CNN’s reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger”, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented.

Donald Trump refused to comment on the account, stating he fully agrees with the CIA.