Information Warfare · Russia

Kseniya Kirillova: How Russians charged their own agent with espionage

About three months ago I reported on the “Yes California” movement, which advocated the secession of California from the United States. The organizers planned to sponsor a referendum on this question for which they were required to collect nearly 600,000 signatures within 180 days. But the movement soon ran into problems – most important was the suspicion that the leader of “Yes California” was acting on the orders of Moscow.

Actually, last September the movement’s leader, American Louis Marinelli, was a guest at the well-known “separatist” forum in Moscow, “Dialogue of Nations – The right of people to self-determination and the construction of a multi-polar world,” which brought together separatists from several countries. One of the organizers was the “Anti-globalization Movement of Russia” which was paid two million rubles by the National Benevolent Fund, created under the aegis of President Vladimir Putin.

In his interview with the Russian propaganda channel RT, Marinelli did not hide his desire to enlist the support of Russia to achieve the separation of California in the same way the Crimea was separated from Ukraine. In the same interview he admitted that he had been living for some time in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and considered Russia to be his “second home” and “could no longer live under the American flag.”

Such declarations of “love and loyalty” did not go unnoticed by both critics and supporters of the movement. Thus, in mid-April a member of the “Yes California” committee, Steve Gonzalez, announced the creation of a new initiative for the secession of California from the USA that, in his words, “has no connection with Moscow.” Marinelli announced that he was dissolving the group he created and moving his permanent residence to Yekaterinburg where he’d found a Russian wife and work as an English language teacher.  He wrote a lengthy farewell post here and was the focus of an April 18 story in the San Jose Mercury News.

But it seems that Marinelli’s life in his “new country” is not working out. Not long after his decision, one of the central Russian television channels, “Rossiya-24,” broadcast a report that the defector was suspected of being nothing less than a CIA agent.

The transformation of Marinelli from a Russian agent to an American agent occurred with amazing speed. The first accusation of the Russian propagandists against the American was that he had settled not in a prestigious area, but rather in the “socially complicated” region of the capital of the Urals, and was now giving interviews to “hostile” American TV channels that showed in the background, and I quote, “scenes of the least favorable parts of the city.”

“Drab five-story buildings, dirty snow underfoot, uncleaned roads,” as the correspondent enumerated the defector’s surroundings. In the opinion of the “vigilant comrades” of the central channel, the American’s espionage activity first of all consists of demonstrating to his former countrymen the gray and wretched realities of Russian life. Moreover, according to the propagandists, contacts of the TV channel’s editorial staff who imprudently interviewed Marinelli, lead to the website – The Broadcasting Board of Governors. According to the author of the “tele-investigation,” it is there where Marinelli provides strategically valuable information about the dirty doorways and filthy roads of Yekaterinburg.

“The Central Intelligence Agency has for decades used university professors and teachers to identify and select future agents, and schools for the study of America and the English language are at the forefront of the active work of American intelligence,is the authoritative opinion of Igor Morozov, member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Council of the Russian Federation, in an interview with “Rossiya-24.”

However, the main reason to suspect our Russophile of contacts with the CIA was not his selection of a region, but rather the city he chose. In fact, attacks on Yekaterinburg by Russian official media and local “patriotic bloggers” have persisted for several years. The city was called a “tapeworm”, accused of organizing a “Maidan in the Urals,” and “especially vigilant” citizens even raised the question of “battling the fifth column in Yekaterinburg” with the Federal Public Chamber in 2014.

“The Urals are controlled by Western agents, the media spread ‘ideological sabotage,’ in the Ural Federal University anti-Russian lectures are given, the Consulate of the USA in Yekaterinburg ‘meets with Islamists and supports Maidan activities,” as “plainclothes blogger” Sergey Kolyasnikov once reported.

The Ural Federal University was subjected to separate harassment, as was Rector Viktor Koksharov personally, because the university invites within its walls various “dubious people” who infuse students with dangerous points of view. Even worse, there is an American Consulate in the city, and even (oh, horror!) foreign diplomats sometimes give lectures. It was precisely in such an “unreliable” city that the supposed “CIA agent,” the American separatist Marinelli, chose to settle.

“So the leader of an American political movement has now decided to live in the capital of the Urals where his country has a diplomatic mission and where there is still a concentration of important defense enterprises and where rich and influential Russians reside,” concludes the “investigative” report.

By the way, Marinelli doesn’t appear to have had much luck with his Russian wife, who was one of the reasons for his move. According to “Rossiya-24,” their divorce is pending before a California court. It’s unknown whether the question of “unreliability” affected the American’s marriage, but it is notable that when it became clear that Marinelli would be of no further use to the Kremlin with regard to American separatism, both his personal and social life slid rapidly downhill. It’s clear that Moscow values separatists only when they are outside of Russia, but inside the country they are worrisome.

Marinelli is far from the only person who vowed loyalty to Russia but received in return nothing resembling reciprocity. The famous and unfortunate Russian spy Yevgeniy Petrin had even less luck. The former FSB operative who worked in the Division of Foreign Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church was sentenced by the Moscow City Court to 12 years hard labor for treason. He claimed to have met with foreigners and passed them information exclusively in the interests of espionage, so he could get them to trust him. Petrin wrote emotional letters to the FSB proclaiming his love for Russia, punctuating them with Biblical quotations and Church Slavonic script, publicly declared his readiness to go to Ukraine and continue his espionage activity, but none of this helped him.

And so the examples of Marinelli and other passionate Russophiles should be a lesson for any foreigner thinking of swearing an oath to his “new country” to damage his own. One should never forget that Moscow not only does not believe in tears, but sometimes not even in the elementary voice of reason.