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White House fears other Russia defectors in Sergei Skripal spy swap could be attacked

The White House fears the other Russian defectors returned to the West in the Sergei Skripal spy swap will be attacked by the Kremlin. 

Senior US administration officials said they had “massive concerns” that Russian critics living in America could be targeted after the Salisbury spy poisoning. 

Mr Skripal, who was attacked alongside his daughter Yulia last month, was one of four Russian double agents handed back to the West in 2010. 

Igor Sutyagin, a nuclear weapons expert, went to Britain while Alexander Zaporozhsky and Gennady Vasilenko, former KGB officers, went to America. 

In turn 10 Russians spies including Anna Chapman,  the red-haired woman accused of being part of a “sleeper” cell in America, were returned to the Kremlin. 

Previously defectors involved in such public spy swaps were considered safe, given the exchange had been formally agreed by the governments involved. 

However following the attack on Mr Skripal the White House now has concerns that those involved in the switch and other Russia critics may now be targeted. 

A senior US administration official said: “For our colleagues who work on intelligence that was a definite rupture of the rules of the game. When you do a spy swap you don’t expect them to be bumped off later.”

They added: “This is why Skripal has got a lot of people’s attention, because it was an official swap dating back several years. There were others who were involved in this, who are either in the UK or some are in the United States.”

Asked if the US had concerns about those returned alongside Mr Skripal, the official said: “Of course we have. We have massive concerns about any Russian critic or other who is now here.”

The comments suggest there are fears that the international outcry over the poisoning of Mr Skripal may not discourage Russia from carrying out further attacks. 

Donald Trump, the US president, did not bring up the Salisbury poisoning with Vladimir Putin in a telephone call after the attack

Credit:
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Discussing the deterioration in relations between Russia and America, the senior US official said the countries had reached an “impasse”.

“We are in the midst of a forest fire, sweeping things away. We may have to be starting from scratch,” the official said. 

The official insisted that despite Donald Trump’s apparent reluctance to criticise directly Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, he was “100 per cent” behind recent sanctions against figures close to the Kremlin. 

The official said that Mr Trump’s approach towards the Russian leader was not that dissimilar to past US presidents. 

“If you look at the past back to [Ronald] Reagan and [Mikhail] Gorbachev and other leaders there’s always been actually a lot of care and attention paid to treating with due respect the leader on the other side, to be able to have a chance to sit down across the table.”

The official said that Mr Putin appeared to be undergoing a “campaign of maximum pressure” against geopolitical rivals in recent years. 

The official also said that the attack on Mr Skripal was designed to put off other Russians who may be considering working with foreign intelligence groups. 

“It was very big signalling, a chilling effect for anyone who might be contemplating similar action,” the official said. 

Article Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/08/white-house-fears-russia-defectors-sergei-skripal-spy-swap-could/

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