London, Sep 22: Russian diplomats held secret talks in London last year with people close to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to assess whether they could help him flee the UK, the Guardian has revealed.
A tentative plan was devised that would have seen Assange smuggled out of Ecuador's London embassy in a diplomatic vehicle and transported to another country.
One ultimate destination, multiple sources have said, was Russia, where Assange would not be at risk of extradition to the US. The plan was abandoned after it was deemed too risky.
The operation to extract Assange was provisionally scheduled for Christmas Eve in 2017 and was linked to an unsuccessful attempt by Ecuador to give him formal diplomatic status, the Guardian said.
The involvement of Russian officials in hatching what was described as a "basic" plan raises new questions about Assange's ties to the Kremlin.
The WikiLeaks editor is a key figure in the ongoing US criminal investigation into Russia's attempts to sway the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
According to Robert Mueller, the special counsel conducting the investigation, WikiLeaks published "over 50,000 documents" stolen by Russian spies. The first tranche arrived on July 14, 2016, as an encrypted attachment.
Assange has denied receiving the stolen emails from Russia.
Ecuador's new president, Lenín Moreno, has said he wants Assange to quit the embassy.
In March, the government in Quito cut off his internet access and restricted his visitors.