Russia Scrambles to Deny 'Highest Level' Access of 'CIA Spy' Extracted From Moscow in 2017

The Russian government has been scrambling to address reports that a CIA spy with access to the highest levels of the Kremlin was extracted from the country in 2017, after years of feeding intelligence to Langley.

CNN reported on Monday that a Russian official—since named by the Russian Kommersant newspaper as Oleg Smolenkov—had served as a covert CIA source within Russia's presidential administration. According to The New York Times, Smolenkov had been on the U.S. payroll for decades.

But on Tuesday, senior Russian officials released statements characterizing Smolenkov as a low-level staffer who was fired from his post in 2017 before disappearing.

According to Kommersant, Smolenkov went missing along with his wife and children while on holiday in Montenegro in 2017, and is now believed to be living in Virginia.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave a blanket denial of any contact with Smolenkov. "I have never seen him, I have never met him, and I have neither kept track of his career nor his movements," the minister said, according to state news agency Tass.

Earlier on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Smolenkov had worked in the Russian Presidential Administration, but that "a few years ago he was dismissed through an internal instruction," Tass reported.

Peskov did not elaborate on the reason for his dismissal, but denied that Smolenkov had high-level access within the Kremlin. "This position does not involve any contacts with the president," he told reporters. Kommersant reported that Smolenkov had served as an assistant to Yuri Ushakov—an international affairs aide to Vladimir Putin—but Peskov said he could not give any more information.

Peskov also refused to confirm any link to the CIA. "I do not know whether he was an agent or not," he said. "I can only confirm that there actually was this staffer and that he was subsequently fired." Peskov also dismissed the CNN report, which claimed Smolenkov was withdrawn by the U.S. for fear he might be exposed.

"All these speculations in the American media that somebody urgently extracted someone and who rescued someone and so on are some sort of pulp fiction," he said. "Let's leave it to them... Russia's counterintelligence is working just fine."

Asked whether the government was now searching for Smolenkov, Peskov replied "we are not in the business of looking for people," and added he had no information on the man's whereabouts.

Peskov's press appearance came just hours after Elena Krylova—a spokesperson for Russia's Administrative Directorate of the President of the Russian Federation—denied Smolenkov had ever worked for the department.

Russia, Kremlin, CIA, spy, denial
This file photo shows a view of the Kremlin in downtown Moscow, Russia on August 7, 2019. ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images/Getty