The U.S. ambassador, Alexander Vershbow, is furious at the insinuations. Patrushev's comments, he says, "are outrageous, untrue and harmful to the work that Peace Corps volunteers are carrying on world-wide. We categorically reject allegations that Peace Corps volunteers have been engaged in spying." But in the midst of this verbal blizzard, Hay himself remains, well, the quiet American. He declines to denounce his now-inhospitable host country. "The way the Peace Corps works is that a host government invites us for the term they would like us to be there, and if they feel that it is no longer necessary to host the program, then that's fine," he says. "The Russian government has expressed appreciation for the work the Peace Corps has done and said that conditions in Russia have changed and that the need for the Peace Corps has changed."
Hay, 34, has been with the Peace Corps for nine of the past 11 years. He served as a volunteer in a small Hungarian village shortly after graduating from St. Michael's College in Vermont with a degree in literature (yes, he read The Quiet American). While there he became fluent in Hungarian and met his wife, also a Corps volunteer, with whom he has a three-month-old daughter. He served as a desk officer in Washington and an administrative officer in Mongolia before arriving in Moscow last year. When his predecessor left Russia last June, Hay became acting country director.
This is not his first brush with controversy. In August, 30 volunteers who'd been in Russia for a year were denied visa extensions. The Russian Education Ministry, which coordinates Corps' activities, "supported our requests for visas and passed them on, so it was a surprise when they were denied," says Hay. "We decided not to bring in a new group of volunteers."
Hay's mild words are clearly designed to ease tensions. And Corps director Gaddi Vasquez echoes his mellow view. "We're disappointed, but we respect a country's right to determine the merits of volunteer service," he says. "This is a situation we encounter from time to time. Last year we closed programs where economic development has grown sufficiently that the countries determined that a continuation would be unnecessary." But when those programs, in the Baltics, were phased out, no one was accused of espionage.
Hay refuses to dignify the spy charges by responding to them directly, stressing instead the accomplishments that over 700 Corps volunteers have made as teachers and mentors throughout Russia. But Patrushev, a friend of Vladimir Putin, is apparently not convinced. With little tradition of volunteerism in Russia, the one-time cold warrior may simply have trouble with the notion of idealistic young Americans coming to Russia to do good. Or maybe he's just been reading too much Graham Greene.