Kremlin charges two Russian-Americans with industrial espionage
Charges against two men, one of whom worked for oil giant and joint venture TNK-BP, may be part of an effort to increase Russia's control over oil resources.
Russia announced Thursday the arrest of two Russian-Americans on charges of industrial espionage. Many analysts believe the move to be part of a Kremlin effort to regain control of the Russian oil producer TNK-BP, which is owned in part by the British oil company BP. One of the arrested men works for TNK-BP.Skip to next paragraph
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The Washington Post reports that the announcement by Russia's Federal Security Service, successor to the Soviet Union's KGB, comes just a day after Russian investigators raided the offices of TNK-BP, a Russian oil giant owned by three Russian oligarchs and BP.
Ilya Zaslavsky, who worked for a Russian venture of the British oil giant BP, and his brother Alexander were arrested March 12, according to the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB.
The two were detained as they met with a Russian employee of a major Russian energy company in an alleged effort to procure secret material, the FSB told the Russian news media.
The service described Alexander Zaslavsky as an employee of the British Council, a culture and arts organization that is financed by the British government, but the organization said he is not and is simply a member of a British Council alumni club for graduates of British universities.
The Russian government recently forced the council to close its regional offices, saying it was operating illegally. Leading politicians, including President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, have accused the organization of being a front for spies.
RIA Novosti reports that the FSB specifically accused the Zaslavskys of "illegally gathering secret commercial information for the benefit of several foreign oil and gas companies, in order to give them advantages over Russian competitors."
The Russian authorities' attention to the Zaslavskys' ties to the British Council has further soured relations between Britain and Russia. The Guardian reports that in January, Russia closed the regional offices of the British Council in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg as part of the ongoing diplomatic conflict between the two nations over the murder of former KGB agent and British resident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. But Thompson Financial reports that the Russian government said the Zaslavskys' arrests were "not connected to the present state of Russian-British relations."