Mikhail Semenko's employer knew he liked to frequent embassy functions and didn't want to work at a travel agency forever, but he said no one ever thought the "clumsy" yet highly intelligent man would be accused of being a Russian spy.
Slava Shirokov, co-owner of Travel All Russia, said Semenko worked for roughly a year at the company's Arlington, Va., office on the second-story of a property that also houses a U.S. military recruitment center. Semenko spoke five languages, according to Shirokov -- a big plus for a travel agency dealing with many foreign clients.
"He was always interested in languages, global politics and other cultures," said Shirokov, 29.
The two men met in college at Amur State University in Russia, where Semenko was in a Chinese studies program, according to Shirokov. Both men eventually moved to the United States, where Semenko received graduate degrees from Seton Hall University. Shirokov said Semenko was 27 or 28, and had previously lived in a Brazilian community in New Jersey while working for what Shirokov thought was a non-governmental organization.
Shirokov said Semenko joined Travel All Russia after that organization downsized, and headed to northern Virginia with the travel agency when they moved their office last year.
"He liked to go to banquets to meet people. He did a lot of that in New York, he did a lot of this here," Shirokov said. "We always thought he is networking in order to land the jobs of his dreams. We knew this is not the job of his dreams. He liked it but he wanted to move on somewhere."
"He was clear about this to us from the start," Shirokov said. "He said, 'My dream job would be something in international relations, an NGO or something like that.'"
Semenko was arrested Sunday at his Arlington residence, less than a mile from a burger joint recently visited by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. He is one of 10 people who were charged Monday with failing to register as foreign agents, a crime that is less serious than espionage and carries up to five years in prison.