By Andrey Fedyashin
On October 4, a federal court in Houston is to decide on a further measure of restraint against 11 people, accused of illegally exporting US microelectronics to Russia. Eight defendants were arrested earlier this week, while three others are believed to be at large in Russia.
At least two defendants allegedly have Russian passports, with another defendant said to have dual citizenship. The rest are naturalized immigrants from former Soviet republics.
A Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Thursday that more light should be shed on the matter, but that a spy scandal is out of the question.
“We keep an eagle eye on the situation around a group of individuals, among them Russian citizens, Lukashevich says. They are charged with illegally exporting microelectronics from the US to Russia. The American side especially mentioned a criminal nature of the accusations that is said are not related to any intelligence activity,” Lukashevich concludes.
As for the suspects, they include Alexander Fishenko, owner and head of a Russian-US electronics company, whom the FBI charged with operating inside the US as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. Other defendants were accused of violating a number of export laws and obstructing justice.
Analysts say that the bottom line of all the spy and pseudo-spy scandals between Moscow and Washington is the “why-now-not-before” question. According to media outlets, the FBI has closely watched the 11 “spies” for at least a year.
Some Russian experts attribute the latest incident to the US election campaign that is gradually coming to a close. They were echoed by Igor Khokhlov of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Such an information leakage is only natural now that the election campaign is in full swing, Khokhlov says.
“The Republicans blame Obama for showing a low-key approach toward Russia and those counties that take an unfriendly position with respect to the US, Khokhlov says. This is why I would attribute the latest incident to the ongoing political strife between the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.”
Spying scandals between the US and Russia regularly occur ahead of important political events, analysts say, referring to the 2010 scandal that came shortly before the ratification of the New START Treaty, signed by Moscow and Washington. At the time, a group of 11 Russian spies were detained in the US, from where they were subsequently extradited to Russia.
As for the latest case, suspects may face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.