Russia says U.S. spy charges baseless and improper

Russia says U.S. spy charges baseless and improper
# 29 June 2010 18:56 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Russia accused the United States Tuesday of making baseless Cold War-style charges, rejecting Washington’s announcement it had cracked a Russian spy ring that had spent years recruiting sources and digging for secrets, APA reports quoting Reuters.

"Such actions are baseless and have improper aims," the Russian Foreign Ministry said after the arrest of 10 suspected spies in the United States in the biggest espionage scandal for years.

An 11th suspect was arrested in Cyprus Tuesday and released on bail, police on the Mediterranean island said.

The suspects, some of whom lived quiet lives in American suburbia for years, were accused of gathering information ranging from data on high-penetration nuclear warhead research programs to background on CIA job applicants.

The arrests -- days after a warm Washington summit between President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev -- thrust a Cold War-style spy scandal into the midst of the U.S. leader’s "reset" of long-strained ties with the Kremlin.

"The choice of timing was particularly graceful," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists sarcastically during a trip to Jerusalem. Other Russian officials also suggested the timing was no coincidence.

"We do not understand what prompted the U.S. Justice Department to make a public statement in the spirit of Cold War espionage," the Foreign Ministry said.

"We deeply regret that all of this has happened against the background of the relations reset declared by the U.S. administration itself," the ministry said in a statement.

With buried banknotes, coded communications and other details, the U.S. allegations echoed superpower spy scandals of the Cold War and the more recent chill in relations with a Kremlin which, under the 2000-2008 presidency of longtime KGB officer Vladimir Putin, routinely accused the West of trying to weaken Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly accused Western powers of maintaining spying operations against Russia despite the end of the Cold War. Western powers also complain of Russian activity, especially in the commercial and scientific areas.

BLOW TO OBAMA

The U.S. Justice Department announced the arrests days after Obama hosted Medvedev. Before their meeting in Washington, Medvedev toured California’s Silicon Valley to try to show Russia is building an open, investor-friendly economy.

Russian analysts said the timing suggested it was an attempt to undermine the "reset" which Obama’s administration has hailed as a major foreign policy achievement, citing Moscow’s support for sanctions against Iran and cooperation on Afghanistan.

"It’s a slap in the face to Barack Obama," said Anatoly Tsyganok, a political analyst at Moscow’s Institute of Political and Military Analysis. He predicted Russia would follow Cold War etiquette and uncover an equal number of alleged U.S. spies.

But military analyst Alexander Golts said the scandal would be unlikely to deal a major setback to relations.

He said Obama’s administration would be eager to "soft-pedal the situation" to avoid damage to improved ties it sees as a foreign policy success, pointing to Kremlin support for new sanctions against Iran and cooperation on Afghanistan.

Tatyana Stanovaya, political analyst at Moscow’s Center for Political Technologies, said the allegations could widen a rift in Russia’s elite between advocates and opponents of better U.S. ties, with the scale of the response hinting at who is ascendant.

Stanovaya said it could dent the authority of Medvedev, who is struggling to emerge from the shadow of Putin, his powerful prime minister, and has made engagement with Washington a hallmark of his presidency.

Putin’s spokesman told Reuters he had no comment on the spying allegations and said they were unlikely to be discussed during Putin’s meeting Tuesday with former U.S. President Bill Clinton in Moscow.

The chief spokesman for the SVR foreign intelligence service, Sergei Ivanov, said: "There will be no comment."

The U.S. Justice Department accused the 11 people charged of operating under orders of the SVR as "illegals"; the term applied in the intelligence world to agents infiltrated to live and operate under false identities, rather than officers who use diplomatic or other legitimate cover.

They were accused of collecting information ranging from research programs on small-yield, high-penetration nuclear warheads to the global gold market, and seeking background on people who applied for jobs at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), according to criminal complaints filed in a U.S. court.

Authorities said 10 of them were arrested Sunday in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Virginia on charges including conspiracy to act as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation and money laundering.

The goal of the alleged spies was to "become sufficiently ’Americanized’ such that they could gather information about the United States for Russia and can successfully recruit sources who are in, or are able to infiltrate, United States policy-making circles," according to court papers.

One alleged spy was accused of sending back information about leadership changes at the CIA.

The U.S. Justice Department said they received extensive training in coded communications, how to evade detection and how to pass messages to other agents while casually brushing past them in public places.

After the 2001 arrest of FBI agent Robert Hanssen, accused of selling secrets to Moscow over 15 years and sentenced to life in prison, Washington expelled four Russian diplomats and ordered 46 to leave the country. Russia responded in kind.

In 2006, Russia accused British diplomats of running a James Bond-style spy ring and communicating with agents via an electronic device disguised as a rock. The next year, British officials said Russian spying was "at Cold War levels."
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