by Igor Serebryany
MOSCOW, June 29 (Xinhua) -- The arrests of 10 alleged Russian spies in the U.S. this week may be an attempt to undermine trust between the two countries that glimmered during a recent meeting of their presidents.
But still, the arrests are unlikely to have any devastating effect on their warming bilateral relations, most experts agree.
ELEVEN SUSPECTS ARRESTED
The U.S. Justice Department announced Monday that 11 people had been charged as "unlawful agents of the Russian Federation within the United States." Ten suspected spies were arrested Sunday in the United States and an 11th was detained Tuesday in Cyprus before being released on bail.
The FBI said that the suspects had been spying for Russia for a decade or more, posing as civilians while trying to infiltrate U.S. policy-making circles and learn about U.S. weapons, diplomatic strategy and politics.
According to a CBC Radio broadcast from Toronto on Tuesday, four of the 11 spies carried forged Canadian passports. Three of the suspects, now in custody, were accused of posing as Canadians to cover their tracks while on assignment in the United States.
According to a complaint filed in federal court, some of the suspects had been under surveillance since January and their correspondence with Russia's intelligence service, the SRV, in Moscow had been intercepted and decoded.
The FBI said various espionage techniques were used by the suspects, varying from old-fashioned "drops" in parks to hi-tech electronic encoding.
FBI files submitted to the court said some of the suspects were in contact with Russian "state officials," including diplomats.
The Russian foreign ministers said later Tuesday that Russian citizens are among the suspects and they should have access to the lawyers.
RUSSIA AWAITS EXPLANATIONS
In response to the spy scandal, the Russian foreign ministry said Tuesday that the alleged reports of Russian spies in the United States were groundless.
"We believe such actions are ungrounded and have unseemly goals. We do not understand the reasons why the U.S. Department of Justice has made a public statement in the spirit of the Cold War," said ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko.
"In any case, it is regrettable that all these things are happening on the background of the 'reset' in Russian-U.S. relations announced by the U.S. administration," Nesterenko said.
Earlier Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Jerusalem that his country awaits explanations from the U.S. on the detention of the alleged spies. Lavrov said the time of the reports "was selected with a special grace."
An official from the ministry said on the same day that information concerning the spy scandal was contradictory.
"Messages are being studied, which are controversial and require further clarification," the official said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has just concluded a tour to the United States, during which he and U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to reset and broaden their countries' bilateral ties. They even snuck out for lunch and ate cheeseburgers at a nearby restaurant.
NO REASON TO WHIP UP
Some Russian lawmakers described the arrests as an attempt to undermine growing trust in relations between Russia and the United States.
Nikolai Kolesnikov, the deputy head of the Russian Parliamentary Security Committee, said the scandal was orchestrated by people whose attitude toward Russia was still based on Cold War-era stereotypes, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Many people involved in American politics view the recent warm spell in relations between the two countries as "inappropriate," he said.
Victor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Russian Institute for U.S. and Canada studies, was convinced the entire affair had been a "provocation."
"In the United States, there are forces unhappy with the rapprochement of the two countries and warming up of their relations," Kremenyuk told Xinhua. "Perhaps, somebody wants to shift the opinion of the U.S. lawmakers in light of current START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) ratification process and to disrupt the process."
Other Russian observers urged that the consequences of the incident not be overblown.
Alexander Torshin, the first deputy speaker of the Russian Federal Council, or the upper house of the Russian parliament, urged caution.
"This is not a return to the Cold War, and this incident will not become a large-scale spy scandal," Torshin said.
The recent decision by the United States to put Chechen warlord Doku Umarov on its international wanted terrorist list was a serious signal indicating that relations between Moscow and Washington have reached an "unprecedentedly high level," Torshin said.
"I don't think this will change the alignment of forces very seriously. This is part of the game," Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council, told the Interfax news agency.