Russians Accuse FBI of ‘Cynical Provocation’ After Lawmaker Held for Questioning

By Patrick Goodenough | October 7, 2019 | 4:31am EDT
Russian lawmaker Inga Yumasheva greets Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) during a visit to Moscow by GOP lawmakers in July last year. (Photo: State Duma press service)

( – Russia’s foreign ministry and senior politicians slammed the FBI for reportedly holding a Russian lawmaker for questioning at a New York airport over the weekend, alleging bad-faith actions by the intelligence community aimed at damaging attempts to improve bilateral relations.

Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov said the embassy sent a protest note to the State Department after Inga Yumasheva was stopped on arrival in New York. He did not identify the airport.

“She was asked to go to a separate room and an FBI officer, who introduced himself, started to question her, for an hour,” Antonov said in a statement. “Moreover, she was offered to meet with the FBI officer in a different, informal setting and to continue the conversation,” he added, without elaborating.

Yumasheva, a member of the ruling United Russia party, traveled to the U.S. for an annual forum co-hosted by The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and Fort Ross in Sonoma County, California, the location of a 19th century Russian settlement.

Antonov, who described Yumasheva’s treatment as “unacceptable,” took part himself in a panel discussion as part of Sunday’s Fort Ross Dialogue. Other panelists included former California Gov. Jerry Brown and former Defense Secretary William Perry.

Russia’s foreign ministry described the Dialogue as an initiative “designed to help strengthen mutual understanding and cooperation between the people of Russia and the United States.”

It insinuated that the questioning of Yumasheva was part of a broader effort to ensure that bilateral ties remain strained.

“This is another hostile action against Russia and its representatives, clearly aimed at further deterioration of the atmosphere of Russian-American relations,” the ministry said. “The question arises: either the American authorities, contrary to their statements, are not striving to normalize the dialogue, or are not able to control the actions of their own special services.”

It charged further, without giving details, that some Russian foreign ministry representatives wanting to participate in the event had been denied visas.

“Moscow is deeply outraged by what happened. Those who make decisions in Washington should consider where systematic escalation of tension in relations with Russia can lead,” the ministry said, calling such a policy “short-sighted and dangerous.”

A spokesman for the FBI New York field office declined to comment on Sunday. Queries sent to the State Department and to the organizers of the Fort Ross Dialogue brought no response by press time.

‘There are forces …’

Yumasheva is a member of the international affairs committee of the State Duma, the Russian equivalent of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Inga Yumasheva coordinates the work of the liaison group for U.S. Congress relations at the Duma, interacts with her colleagues, and participates in a difficult dialogue,” Duma chairman (speaker) Vyacheslav Volodin said in a statement.

“And the behavior of the U.S. intelligence in this regard can only be viewed as a cynical provocation.”

Volodin said the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had issued Yumasheva with a visa to attend the forum, and called her treatment in New York “another example of a violation of their international obligations.”

“There are forces in the United States that want to exacerbate [tensions in] bilateral relations,” he said. “Actions that create a negative atmosphere in the relations between our countries are unacceptable and deserve condemnation.”

Also weighing in was Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Council upper chamber’s foreign affairs committee, an ally of President Vladimir Putin who closely reflects Kremlin thinking.

He said on his Facebook page that Yumasheva, as coordinator of a Duma group on relations with the U.S. House of Representatives, has done “a lot to maintain at least minimal dialogue with American parliamentarians.”

Kosachev said President Trump and U.S. lawmakers should distance themselves from what he said was a provocation “organized by the intelligence services,” which “poisons the already stagnant bilateral relations.”

At last year’s Fort Ross Dialogue, Yumasheva told reporters that most Americans and Russians “share a common interest in peaceful interaction among our countries.”

Lawmakers from the two countries, she said, “should take into account this opinion and wish of people to not confront, but to interact.”

Last month Russia protested after U.S. authorities declined to issue visas for ten officials – including Kosachev – wanting to travel to New York as part of Moscow’s delegation to the annual U.N. General Assembly session opening.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the move “a disgrace.”

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