U.S. Espionage Claims Recall Cold War `Spy Mania,' Russia Says

The U.S. Justice Department’s claims that it broke up a Russian spy ring are “regrettable” and reminiscent of the Cold War at a time when relations are improving, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.

“Such actions are completely unfounded and serve unseemly goals,” the ministry said today on its website. The allegations are “in the spirit of cold war spy mania,” according to the statement.

Ten alleged members of a “long-term, deep-cover” Russian spy ring have been arrested on the U.S. East Coast, the Justice Department said yesterday. The suspects, who are accused of seeking to infiltrate U.S. policy-making circles, face charges including conspiring to act as illegal Russian agents and to commit money laundering.

The arrests were announced less than a week after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Washington as a part of a “reset” in relations the U.S. initiated last year. President Barack Obama has made a nuclear arms control treaty, which still requires Senate ratification, the centerpiece of improved ties.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who met with former U.S. President Bill Clinton today at his residence outside Moscow, joked that Clinton had come at the right time because police in America were “out of control, throwing people into jail.”

“I truly expect that everything positive that we’ve accumulated recently in the inter-state relationship will not be affected by recent events,” Putin said during an exchange shown on state television. “I very much hope that people that cherish Russia-U.S. relationships understand that.”

Damage to Reset

While the spy scandal won’t necessarily affect the Obama administration’s position on Russia, it could push some senators to vote against the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine.

“If this becomes the reason for the non-ratification of the new START treaty, it will seriously damage the reset,” Lukyanov said. Since arms control is linked to other issues, failure to ratify the accord may also affect missile defense talks and cooperation on Iran’s nuclear program, he said.

Russia will probably wait before reacting with a reciprocal move because the situation is unclear and tit-for-tat actions would only confirm the validity of the charges, Lukyanov said.

The timing of the Justice Department’s announcement shows that there are “hawks” in the U.S. security services opposed to better relations, said Alexei Malashenko, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

“There is no way to stop the reset as long as Obama is in power,” Malashenko said. “But a scandal like this is meant to show Americans that Russians are untrustworthy and that confrontation continues.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Lucian Kim in Moscow at lkim3@bloomberg.net; Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at iarkhipov@bloomberg.net

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