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US-Russia: Eye for Eye, Spy for Spy

US-Russia: Eye for Eye, Spy for Spy?
US-Russian relations are rocked by another major spy scandal. Three Russian citizens are being accused of industrial espionage after a prolonged FBI investigation claims to have proof that they were procuring and passing along secrets to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.

Studio guest Andrei Fyodorov, former deputy foreign minister of Russia, director of the Center for political research foundation, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a former director of Russia's intelligence service, Roger C. Wilson, an attorney and adjunct law professor at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Georgia.

Is this a lever of pressure against Russia? And what is the US trying to get out of this?

Andrei Fyodorov: I don’t think this is kind of a direct pressure against Russia. I've seen a lot of same stories in the Russian-American relations in my life. I think we should consider it in a much broader context than the Russian-US relations. It is part of not American, but part of the global pressure on Russia. And for America it is one more argument to use Europe in their struggle against Russia. The logic is very simple – Russia is active in the US, Russia is spying in the US and it hurts the whole Western world, not only the US.

From my point of view, it is not by chance that the financial institution was chosen, because today we are facing the problem of the so-called next stage of the anti-Russian sanctions which is linked to the financial world. And from this point of view, this kind of scandal is very good and can be used very effectively. It is very good for the US to say – okay, Russians are trying to think how to destabilize the Western financial sector; they want to try to breakdown the New York Stock Exchange’s work.

Considering this idea, do you think that, maybe, we could see a future spy scandal in the UK, for example?

Andrei Fyodorov: Maybe, because the UK is one of the financial centers for the Russian business. But I think this is not the top problem in the Russian-American relations. If Mr. Kerry will visit Moscow, of course, it will be touched. But it is not the key problem; it is just kind of a backstage thing in the Russian-American relations.

This all reminds us of the story of Anna Chapman.

Andrei Fyodorov: She was not a professional and she has never had any access to any serious information. This today’s story is totally different. We are facing the issue of the so-called financial espionage. Now the financial information and the possibilities to destabilize the financial markets are much more important, even than the military information. The military information is important for strategic thinking, but if you can crash a market in one day or destabilize the work of the biggest stock exchange in the world, you are more powerful than the one with the nuclear weapons. 

Let’s talk of the social effects on Americans. Could this also be part and parcel of a larger information war against Russia?

Andrei Fyodorov: Of course! The nuclear war danger is something mysterious and not understandable now. The financial issues are much more important and it is very easy to sell them, saying – look, Russians would like to destabilize the financial market and that will hit every American.

From the initial media reports it appears that this is a big espionage case, but is it really?

Roger C. Wilson: It depends on what you mean by big espionage case. As that term has usually been used in the previous cases, I think it is not. In the US statues espionage is defined mostly to involve the gathering of information and providing information about national defense, national security, confidential information, classified information. At least, from investigating the publically available documents in this case filed by the federal prosecutors in New York, it does appear that this isn’t that kind of case at all. It appears to be the case in which the allegations are only that the several defendants named failed to report under the reporting requirements, when allegedly acting as agents for a foreign government.

Why do you think it should be treated under a Foreign Agent Registration act, as opposed to espionage?

Roger Wilson: It appears that none of the activities they are focused on here involve confidential information. In the espionage case the documents involved, the photos involved, the information involved is confidential or relate to national defense information, or relate to national security information. And if you don’t have that, then you don’t really have espionage.

Do you think it is a coincidence that the allegations against the three Russians are coming in the midst of the sanctions war and this so-called new Cold War? 

Vyacheslav Trubnikov: I think that this spy scandal is part and parcel of the anti-Russian campaign; it is part and parcel of the system of sanctions against Russia. To be frank, I've expected that kind of a spy scandal to be something which would add to this anti-Russian campaign. So, I don’t see anything unusual and the manner in which the scandal is being arranged, planned, I think, from the point of view of professionalism, it is not very professional. It is very hasty, it is something that has to be added to the campaign against Russia.

What is industrial espionage, as compared to other types of espionage? 

Vyacheslav Trubnikov: This question is a really tricky one. To distinguish between the industrial espionage, commercial espionage or political espionage is sometimes a very tricky thing, because in the competition society, in the competition between different commercial companies, different enterprises working in the same sphere of interest, such things do not involve government services. Every serious and strong industrial company, a serious enterprise has its own service which provides for information from the outside to be effective in the competition with their rivals and that is all. And from what I heard about this spy scandal, I don’t see anything that might remind me of the state-owned intelligence services. I don’t see any kind of necessity for the state intelligence service to be involved in this.

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