A recently disclosed report reveals an intense saga of international espionage and a retaliation spiral between the United States and Russia centered on an assassination attempt in 2020. The intended target was Aleksandr Poteyev, a former Russian intelligence officer and CIA informant living under protective cover in the United States.
The Target: Aleksandr Poteyev
Aleksandr Poteyev, a high-ranking Russian intelligence official, became a valuable asset to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) more than a decade ago. Poteyev’s intelligence led to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) uncovering and arresting 11 Russian spies in 2010 who were living under deep cover in East Coast suburbs and cities.
The Russian foreign intelligence service, S.V.R., had made substantial efforts to gather information and enlist new agents who adopted false identities and worked at regular occupations. Among these agents was the notorious “red-haired Russian honeypot” Anna Chapman.
Poteyev, a marked man due to his betrayal, had cleverly escaped Russia via Belarus before he could face punishment for his disclosures. The CIA, keen on protecting this valuable asset, relocated him to Miami, Florida, under a secret program. However, in 2011, a Moscow court, in his absence, sentenced him to 25 years in prison for treason.
The Foiled Assassination Plot
The Russian government, undeterred by Poteyev’s physical absence from the country, sought to kill him in 2020. According to a report by the New York Times, Russia enlisted Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes, a Mexican scientist, to aid in the assassination plot.
With his wife and two daughters blocked from leaving Russia, Fuentes was pressured into compliance. He was instructed to rent a condo near Poteyev’s home under a different name and locate Poteyev’s car. The plan, however, fell apart when Fuentes attempted to tailgate another car through a security gate at Poteyev’s residence. The incident, which ended with Fuentes’s wife photographing Poteyev’s license plate, was captured on security footage.
The Retaliation Spiral
The revelation of this assassination plot sparked a wave of retaliation by both the United States and Russia. The brazen attack was seen as an escalation of Russia’s willingness to target defectors living in Western countries, mirroring a similar incident in 2018. Russian operatives had poisoned former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England. Like Poteyev, Skripal had served as an informant and had fled Russia to seek refuge in a Western country.
In response to the assassination plot, the US government in 2021 imposed sanctions on Russia and expelled 10 Russian diplomats, including the Washington, D.C.-based chief of station for Russia’s intelligence agency. In a tit-for-tat move, Russia expelled 10 US diplomats, including the CIA’s Moscow chief of station.
The foiled assassination attempt has been chronicled in detail in an upcoming book by Harvard scholar Calder Walton, titled “Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West.” Walton’s study signals the escalation of President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to target his enemies on foreign soil. The retaliatory exchanges between the two nations following the failed assassination attempt underscore the tension and high-stakes intrigue that continue to mark relations between Russia and the United States.
Vladimir Putin’s Red Lines
The incident has drawn sharp criticism of President Putin’s apparent disregard for traditional “red lines” in global diplomacy. Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA officer, told the New York Times that Putin “wants all these guys dead,” signifying an aggressive, no-holds-barred approach to dealing with defectors. Despite the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Poteyev, the attempt and its subsequent retaliation spiral have cast a long shadow on US-Russian relations. The increased tensions have prompted some observers to fear further escalations in this clandestine conflict.
Aleksandr Poteyev: An Informant Living in Shadows
Despite the constant threat to his life, Poteyev continued to live under his own name in Miami. He had registered as a Republican, obtained a fishing license, and even registered to vote, seemingly unafraid of making his presence known. These mundane activities, while drawing attention to him, also underscored his determination to lead a normal life despite the imminent danger. His courage and audacity continue to symbolize the lives of countless informants who risk everything for their convictions. Such individuals live in the shadows, trapped in a high-stakes game of espionage and counterintelligence, their lives constantly on the line.
The Fallout: Shaping Future Relations
As the world awaits the full revelations of the upcoming book by Calder Walton, it’s evident that this incident has shaped and will continue to shape the complex relationship between Russia and the United States. This high-stakes game of spy-versus-spy and the ongoing retaliation between nations continue to define the real-world narrative of international espionage. As such, the story of Aleksandr Poteyev serves as a microcosm of the tension and intrigue that defines US-Russian relations in this age of advanced counterintelligence. It’s a tale that echoes loudly in the halls of international diplomacy, reminding us of the potential fallout when the covert world of spies spills over into the public domain.