The New York Times details the diplomatic row ‘tit for tat’ as a result of a failed attempt to kill a CIA informant.
According to a New York Times report, Russia attempted to assassinate a Mexican scientist living in the United States in 2020 by enlisting him to aid in the conspiracy.
While the plan to assassinate Alexander Potayev failed, its aftermath “sparked retaliatory actions by the United States and Russia,” the newspaper reported Monday.
The New York Times, citing three former US officials, said it had independently verified the assassination attempt, which will be described in a forthcoming book by Harvard scholar Calder Walton.
Potayev, a former Russian intelligence officer, previously worked as an informant for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His tips led the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to ensnare 11 Russian spies living on the US East Coast in 2010.
Potayev fled Russia via Belarus before facing punishment for his revelations. Once in the United States, Potayev was resettled in Miami, Florida under a secret CIA program to protect spies, according to Monday’s report.
In 2011, a Moscow court sentenced him to 25 years in prison for treason despite being absent from the country.
The Times reported that Potayev obtained a fishing license and registered to vote in his own name, allowing Russia to finally trace his whereabouts. It then enlisted Mexican scientist Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes to assist in the plot.
A Russian official helped Fuentes’ Russian wife and two daughters, who were barred from leaving the country, accept him, the newspaper explained, citing court documents.
Fuentes was asked to rent a condo under a different name near Potayev’s home and search for Potayev’s car. He was instructed not to take pictures.
But the plan goes awry when Fuentes attempts to enter the complex where Potayev lives by tailgating another car while passing through a security gate. As a guard interrogated him, his wife photographed Potayev’s license plate. The incident was caught on security footage.
Fuentes detailed the plot when he was stopped by authorities two days later while trying to leave the United States.
The scheme comes two years after the poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England. Skripal worked as an informant in the UK and fled the country from Russia.
Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, survived the brazen attack, which represents a major escalation in Russia’s willingness to target defectors living in Western countries.
The US assassination plot was one of many events at the time that prompted a strong response from Washington, including mass expulsions of Russians.
In 2021, the United States imposed sanctions on Russia and expelled 10 Russian diplomats, including the Washington, DC-based main station of Russian intelligence agencies.
Meanwhile, Russia expelled 10 US diplomats, including the CIA’s Moscow headquarters.