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29 Jun, 2010 16:23

Detained Russians were not spying – ministry

Russia's Foreign Ministry says the suspected spies arrested in the US include Russian citizens, though they did nothing to hurt American interests.

Moscow is counting on the US to show “proper understanding,'' taking into account the “positive character'' of Russian-US relations, the official ministry statement issued Tuesday evening said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed hopes the ties between Moscow and Washington won’t be harmed by the incident.

"Your police have let themselves go. They are putting people in prison,” the Russian Premier said at a meeting with former US President Bill Clinton in Moscow. “We hope that positive things achieved in recent years will be preserved. We also hope that people who value good relations understand that."

Obama was briefed on the matter in advance – spokesman

The US State Department says no Russian diplomats will be expelled in connection with the breakup of alleged Russian spy ring.

The US law enforcement “acted appropriately” in the arrests of alleged Russian spies, but it will not affect US-Russia relations, Washington said Tuesday.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama ”was fully and appropriately informed” about the matter.

“This was a law enforcement action, and law enforcement acted appropriately. And he (Obama) did not have a personal reaction that I know of,” Gibbs said as quoted on the White House official website.

The press secretary said Obama knew about the investigation when he met with Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev in Washington last week, but the two did not discuss the issue.

”I do not believe that this will affect the reset of our relationship with Russia,” Gibbs told journalists. “We have made great progress in the past year-and-a-half, working on issues of mutual concern from a new START treaty to working together on things like in the United Nations dealing with North Korea and Iran.”

The arrests were strictly law-enforcement operations, believes Ivan Eland, director of the Centre on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Washington.

“But I don’t think this was in any sort of attempt to put a dagger in a heart of improved Russian-US relations,” he said.

Moreover, the US counts on further improvements in relations with Russia despite the spy scandal, Dr. Philip Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, said at a briefing Tuesday. The State Department is in contact with Russian authorities and negotiations regarding the incident are underway both in Washington and in Moscow, he said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry echoed Gibbs, saying that the scandal will not affect Moscow-Washington relations.

"We hope that the incident linked to the arrest of a group of people in the US on suspicion of spying for Russia will not have a negative impact on Russian-American relations," a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said, Interfax reports.

"We have taken note of the statement given by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," he added.

Experts’ comments

However political experts have a different view on the things.

The political forces on both sides that are traditionally opposing the closer ties between Russia and the US are most likely to be the fire-starters, because the spy scandal will certainly affect the “reset” process between the two, they believe.

“The real problem is not to give a chance to these facts to overwhelm and start defining Russian-American relations after the successful visit of the Russian President to the US,” believes Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Institute for USA and Canada Studies.

Still, Barack Obama will let the security services do their job to judge later if the threat to national security of the US was a real one.

“Maybe I am too optimistic, but I think one of the outcomes of this situation will be [an] understanding of the need to look to revise deeply the type of our relationship, maybe just go ahead with the developing of mutual trust of co-operation and mutual assistance,” Kremenyuk says.

The situation looks like an internal political game of the American establishment and has its aim in undermining the US President’s image in the eyes of the Russian government, Aleksey Arbatov from Center for International Security at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations said. President Obama has a strong opposition and it wants to put him in an awkward situation where he is a blot on the landscape, he explained.

Deputy Head of Russia’s State Duma Security Commission, Vladimir Kolesnikov agrees, adding there are many in the political circles of the United States who cannot drop the Cold War way of thinking and give up their double standards.

“The thaw that began taking shape with coming to power of the two new young presidents who are set for constructive relations in all directions, wasn’t welcomed at some levels of American society. As result, the given situation happened,” Kolesnikov said, explaining his view on the nature of the incident.

The American spy network is very active, and it is no secret that “agents of US intelligence services still work” in Russia, Kolesnikov added. Previously Russia, when such were detected, quietly deported them from the country, making them “persona non grata”, but now it should start taking criminal prosecutions, he said.

I think it’s very clear that President Obama did not particularly enjoy the timing, didn’t think the timing benefited him,” said Chris Lapetina, an analyst for the Democratic Strategist.

Lapetina agreed with the theory that the parties involved in the arrests may have intentionally disregarded the warming in Russia-US relations.

My guess would be that somebody did not care that the president would not agree with this timing and felt it was in their own best interest to make these arrests now. And in doing so, definitely put a damper on an accomplishment for the president that was seen as this successful trip by the Russian president that happened recently in DC."