“No, I cannot confirm this because I do not know whether he was an agent or not. I can only confirm that there actually was this staffer and that he was subsequently fired,” Russian officials said.
Conflicting reports emerged Tuesday around claims that the U.S. has extracted a CIA spy who had been working in the Russian government. A CNN report claims the spy was working at a high level in the Kremlin, and withdrawn after fears that his cover was about to be blown. Meanwhile, Russia says that he was not a senior official and had been fired several years ago.
An exclusive CNN report claims the spy was working for the CIA, worked for a close aid of President Vladimir Putin and had frequent contact with the president and other senior ministers. The CIA then had to begin “ "exfiltration" in 2017, as it was feared that Donald Trump's mishandling of intelligence reports, along with increased scrutiny following the Trump-Russian collusion allegations, had all put the operative's life in immediate danger.
U.S. media reports now say the man is living in the Washington area and has refused to disclose his name.
Meanwhile, the Russian government has dismissed the report as fake. They quickly exposed the possible spy as a man called Oleg Smolenkov. The Kremlin says he was not necessarily a spy and that though he was employed in the Presidential Office, he was only ever a junior official, without sensitive access.
“It is true, Smolenkov used to work in the Presidential Administration but a few years ago he was dismissed through an internal instruction. His position did not belong to the category of high-ranking state officials, No, this position does not involve any contacts with the president,” Presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
When asked if Smolenkov was a spy, Peskov responded, “No, I cannot confirm this because I do not know whether he was an agent or not. I can only confirm that there actually was this staffer and that he was subsequently fired.”
Another Russian lawmaker Frants Klintsevich, a member of Russia’s Upper House Defense and Security Committee said, "Certainly, that [The CNN report] is a clear fake, concocted in a quite clumsy manner. The era of Stierlitzes [a lead character in a popular Soviet novel and film about a Soviet spy] has irreversibly passed if it ever existed at all, and there cannot be in principle any US informant who could work ‘inside the Russian government.’”