Using his false identity, Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov obtained information from US citizens regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine through American political and academic circles. Prosecutors said he also posed as a filmmaker to meet with witnesses and victims of the Ukraine conflict. Cherkasov is accused of failing to register as a foreign agent while working for Russia’s intelligence service within the US, which carries up to 10 years prison sentence upon conviction. The FBI has warned Americans that such undercover activity by foreign agents “poses risks” and should be reported immediately.
Cherkasov allegedly gave his handler information about the US government, politics, and military developments. He also provided names of people who might be useful for recruitment as spies in the future. Prosecutors said he did it all without disclosing his true identity or affiliation with the Russian Federation intelligence services. According to CNN, US law enforcement is still investigating whether any of that activity was illegal.
Prosecutors also say Cherkasov allegedly sought to obtain and analyze energy policy documents to gain insight into the US-Russia economic relationship. “I am trying to understand what is happening with the energy policies [in] Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and European Union countries,” he wrote in a message. Cherkasov was accused of attempting to recruit other Russian nationals living in the United States as intelligence sources on behalf of Russian government officials. He was arrested by FBI agents at JFK Airport while attempting to board a plane out of New York City last April. If convicted, Cherkasov faces up to 20 years in prison for each count of acting as an agent without notification and 15 years for each wire fraud charge.
Cherkasov further alleged that the US administration has been instructed to “try to avoid any provocative statements” and that his source believed this was a sign of possible “drastic shifts in Washington’s foreign policy towards Russia.” The source also allegedly told Cherkasov, he wrote, that the Biden administration is “looking for some kind of new way … to press Moscow into talks about Crimea and Donbas [in eastern Ukraine].” His contact described this as a form of “constructive dialogue.” It is unclear if such efforts have been successful or not.
Cherkasov is currently in the custody of the Brazilian authorities, and his case has been brought to trial. He is accused of acting as a foreign agent without registering with the Brazilian government, carrying a maximum penalty of four years in prison. Additionally, it is believed that Cherkasov was attempting to acquire sensitive information from Brazil for Russia’s intelligence services. He could face up to eight years in jail if found guilty on all counts. The international implications of this case are also far-reaching: a diplomatic incident between two nuclear powers over allegations involving alleged espionage activity should not be taken lightly by any means. In addition, if the accusations against Cherkasov are proven true, it would indicate heightened Russian involvement within Latin America – something other countries in the region will surely be paying close attention to as events unfold.