US cracks 'Russian spy ring' in New York

Three men are accused of gathering intelligence on potential US sanctions against Moscow and other US economic interests

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In a sharp reminder that the Cold War seems never to have died, US authorities announced tonight the cracking of a clandestine Russian spy ring that had been operating in New York City to gather intelligence on potential US sanctions against Moscow and other US economic interests.

Three Russian citizens were charged in the case, including two who used to work as low-level diplomats in New York, one as a trade representative for Moscow and the other as an attaché to the Russian mission to the United Nations.  Both have since left the United States.

A third defendant, identified as Evgeny Buryakov, 39, was alleged to have contributed to the ring’s spying activities while working at a Russian bank in Manhattan. He was arrested in the Bronx early on Monday and taken into custody before formally charged.

The men worked under the direction of Russian intelligence officials to “gather intelligence on, among other subjects, potential United States sanctions against Russian banks and the United States' efforts to develop alternative energy resources," according to a complaint filed in federal court here.

The other two men, who were protected by diplomatic immunity even before they left the US, were identified as Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy. While they were in theory exempt from reporting any intelligence gathering activities to the US authorities by virtue of the diplomatic status, they were not permitted to conspire with Mr Buryakov who had no such status in the US.

Rather Mr Buryakov had been using his positon at Russia’s Vnesheconombank to seek out and report the information that Moscow requested. He allegedly took his assignments from the other two men. He was eventually ensnared, however, by an undercover FBI agent who was posing as a client of the bank.

“The presence of a Russian banker in New York would in itself hardly draw attention today, which is why these alleged spies may have thought Buryakov would blend in,” US Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said in a statement.

The investigation into the alleged ring began shortly after the US charged 10 people with spying for Russia in 2010, including Emma Chapman, a deep undercover agent living in Manhattan as an estate agent. They all pleaded guilty to conspiracy as agents in July that year. They were sentenced to time served but then traded back to Russia in a prisoner swap worthy of a John Le Carre script.

The three men “regularly met and communicated using clandestine methods and coded messages, in order to exchange intelligence-related information while shielding their associations with one another as (foreign intelligence) agents," the complaint said.

The arrests were hailed tonight by the US Attorney General, Eric Holder. “These charges demonstrate our firm commitment to combating attempts by covert agents to illegally gather intelligence and recruit spies within the United States,” he said in a statement. “We will use every tool at our disposal to identify and hold accountable foreign agents operating inside this country - no matter how deep their cover.”

Mr Bharara, who is Manhattan’s top prosecutor, also sought to underscore the significance of the case. "Following our previous prosecution with the FBI of Russian spies, who were expelled from the United States in 2010 when their plan to infiltrate upper levels of US business and government was revealed," he said, adding that the new charges “make it clear that - more than two decades after the presumptive end of the Cold War - Russian spies continue to seek to operate in our midst.”