Outing of Alleged Spies Further Strains U.S.-Russia Ties

Russia breached the arcane etiquette of international espionage when it publicly identified a U.S. diplomat in Moscow as a CIA station chief.

The move is the latest sign that U.S.-Russian relations remain rocky and that Russian President Vladimir Putin -- a former officer in the KGB, the Soviet Union’s intelligence service -- remains cool to President Barack Obama’s attempts to thaw them. The U.S. bid for a “reset” in 2009 unraveled amid disputes over issues such as Syria and Iran that linger today.

Obama sent his national security adviser, Tom Donilon, to Moscow a month ago for talks with Putin in an effort to ease a dispute over U.S. missile defense plans and advance joint economic and security measures before the two leaders meet next month at the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland.

The spy spat and unresolved tension over Syria -- Russia continues to send arms to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime despite U.S. requests that it stop -- have undercut diplomats’ talk of a second “reset.”

“I do not believe there is a ‘Reset Two,’” William Pomeranz, acting director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at Washington’s Wilson Center, a policy research institute, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Russia has “every intention of asserting its own advantages in any sort of dealings with the United States,” Pomeranz said. “That has been the stated objective of Putin since his return to the presidency a year ago, and I see nothing so far that suggests that they are going to pursue anything other than a policy that, as they see it, brings advantage to Russia.”

Intersecting Interests

The U.S. and Russia have cooperated when their interests intersect, such as their joint counterterrorism efforts following last month’s Boston Marathon bombing, allegedly committed by two men with family ties to Russia’s volatile Chechnya and Dagestan regions. Obama wants to pursue an effort to reduce both nations’ nuclear arsenals below levels set by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty negotiated in his first term.

“We still feel that we have a very positive relationship, and one that we can continue to work together on areas where we agree,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday. “There are still areas, of course, where we disagree.”

State-run Russian media cited an official from the domestic Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, naming the alleged Central Intelligence Agency station chief as of 2011 during a briefing about another alleged CIA officer, Christopher Fogle, who was detained by in Moscow on May 13.

American Expelled

Fogle was expelled from Russia after he was caught trying to recruit a Russian agent in what the FSB described as a sting operation. Fogle worked under a diplomatic cover in the U.S. Embassy’s political section, according to the FSB, as the main successor to the KGB is known in Russian.

The FSB official said that Russian authorities in 2011 had told the CIA station chief, whom he named, that the U.S. should stop trying to recruit Russian security and intelligence officers, according to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news service. That report said it’s not clear whether Fogle is still in Moscow.

U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul was summoned on May 15 to the Russian Foreign Ministry, which said it presented him with a formal protest about Fogle’s activities. The U.S. has not publicly disputed the Russian allegations, and Psaki said she wouldn’t have any comment on the matter of the alleged station chief.

Russian Missiles

Separately, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday that Russian deliveries of advanced anti-ship missiles and air-defense systems to Syria risk leading Assad’s regime to miscalculate its military power.

Army General Martin Dempsey, at a Pentagon news conference, called the shipments “at the very least an unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering.”

Any Russian weapons being sent to Syria are fulfilling commitments in previous contracts, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday after talks in Sochi, Russia, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Russia is completing contracts to supply S-300 air-defense missile batteries to Syria, according to a Kremlin official who asked not to be identified discussing the arms sales.

‘Major Threat’

U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress last month that Russia also is supplying Syria with a supersonic anti-ship cruise missile called the Yakhont, a weapon with a range of 300 kilometers (186 miles) that he said poses “a major threat to naval operations, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brought up Russian weapons deliveries to Syria with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a visit to Moscow last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a news conference yesterday.

Kerry’s goal was to underscore the common ground between the U.S. and Russia in avoiding an escalation that could lead to a broader Mideast conflagration, Hagel said.

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