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Russia says spying charges are Cold War throwback

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev speaks to the Cabinet at a meeting, in Moscow’s Kremlin, Tuesday, June 29, 2010. Russia angrily denounced the U.S. arrest of 10 alleged Russian spies as an unjustified throwback to the Cold War, and senior lawmakers said some in the U.S. government may be trying to undercut President Barack Obama’s warming relations with Moscow.

June 29, 2010

(Los Angeles Times / AP) Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the arrest of 10 alleged Russian spies in the United States is a throwback to the Cold War.

The ministry said in a statement that the U.S. actions are unfounded and pursued “unseemly” goals. It voiced regret that the arrests came even though President Obama has moved to “reset” U.S. relations with Russia.

The FBI has arrested 10 people who allegedly spied for Russia for up to a decade — posing as civilians while trying to infiltrate U.S. policymaking circles. An 11th defendant — a man accused of delivering money to the agents — remains at large.

Two senior lawmakers said earlier that some in the U.S. government may be trying to undermine President Barack Obama’s warming relations with Russia.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that U.S. authorities announced the arrest days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited the United States.

“They haven’t explained to us what this is about,” Lavrov said at a news conference during a visit to Jerusalem. “I hope they will. The only thing I can say today is that the moment for doing that has been chosen with special elegance.”

Medvedev met with Obama at the White House last week after the Russian leader visited high-tech firms in California’s Silicon Valley. The two presidents went out for cheeseburgers, exchanged jokes and walked together in the park in a show of easy camaraderie underlining that efforts to “reset” ties have taken deep root.

The series of arrests of purported deep cover agents followed a multiyear FBI investigation.

The FBI has arrested 10 people who allegedly spied for Russia for up to a decade, posing as innocent civilians while trying to infiltrate U.S. policymaking circles and learn about U.S. weapons, diplomatic strategy and politics. An 11th defendant, a man accused of delivering money to the agents, remains at large.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov told The Associated Press that the information given by U.S. authorities looks “contradictory.” He wouldn’t comment further. The main Russian spy agency, the Foreign Intelligence Service, known by its Russian acronym SVR, refused to comment on the arrests.

Alexander Torshin, a deputy speaker of the Russian parliament’s upper house, sought to downplay the arrests and said they are unlikely to derail efforts to improve Russian-U.S. ties.

“It’s not a return to the Cold War, and I’m sure that this incident won’t develop into a large-scale spy scandal,” Torshin said, according to the state RIA Novosti news agency.

He said agreements reached during Medvedev’s visit to the United States last week signaled that relations between Moscow and Washington have reached a new higher level.

But another senior lawmaker, a deputy chairman of the security affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, Vladimir Kolesnikov, told RIA Novosti the arrests signaled that some quarters in the U.S. government oppose warmer ties with Russia.

“Regrettably, there are people in America burdened by the legacy of the Cold War, the legacy of double standards,” he said. “And they react improperly to the warming of relations spearheaded by the presidents. It’s a blow to President Obama.”

Kolesnikov, a former deputy prosecutor general, said “U.S. secret agents are continuing to work” in Russia and suggested that Russia could respond tit-for-tat.

“Previously we have quietly evicted some of them,” he said. “Now I think we should more actively apply criminal legislation against them.”

Kolesnikov is not believed to have close ties to the Kremlin or knowledge of the government’s plans.

Nikolai Kovalyov, the former chief of the main KGB successor agency, the Federal Security Service, said that Russia would reciprocate only “if the American don’t stop at that and risk evicting our diplomats,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. He added that it will be unlikely.

Kovalyov, a lawmaker, said that the arrests was an attempt by some “hawkish circles” in the United States to demonstrate the need for a tougher line toward Moscow.

He ridiculed some of the U.S. charges against the alleged spies, saying that some of the charges resembled a “bad spy novel.” “Would you act like that in the 21st century?” he said in a reference to allegations that agents retrieved cash that had been buried in the ground years before.

Kovalyov added that Russian-U.S. ties will continue to improve despite the spy scandal. “Our two great powers must stand together,” he said.

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