Russia demands explanation over spies

RUSSIAN Prime Minister Vladimir Putin criticised the US for “letting themselves go” in relation to a spy scandal he hopes would not damage improving relations between the two countries.

“Your police have let themselves go, and put people in prison,” Mr Putin told visiting former US President Bill Clinton at a meeting at Mr Putin’s residence outside Moscow.

“I expect that the positive tendency in relations over the last years is not harmed. We very much hope that people who value good relations understand this.”

Russia today demanded an explanation from the US over the arrests of an alleged spy ring, which struck at a time of rapidly warming ties between Moscow and Washington.

“They did not explain what the matter is about. I hope they will,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in televised comments, referring to the US authorities.

“The moment when it was done has been chosen with a special finesse,” he said during a visit to Jerusalem, with apparent sarcasm.

The latest spy scandal erupted as Russia-US ties are enjoying a renaissance.

President Dmitry Medvedev and US leader Barack Obama met in Washington earlier this month to underscore warming ties between the two Cold War adversaries.

During the meeting in Washington Russia said it would buy 50 Boeing aircraft valued at $US4 billion ($4.59 billion) and Mr Obama took the Kremlin chief to one of his favourite joints for a burger.

A Russian foreign ministry spokesman said earlier in the day the ministry was studying the information which he called contradictory.

“There are a lot of contradictions,” ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov said, declining further comment.

Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) said it was not commenting on the arrests, its official spokesman Sergei Ivanov told the RIA Novosti news agency.

The US said yesterday it had cracked open a massive alleged spy ring, announcing the arrest of 10 “deep-cover” suspects after unravelling a mission secretly monitored by the FBI for more than a decade.

Russian national television channels were carrying the news as the main item on their morning news broadcasts, but also emphasising that the accusations against the suspects had yet to be proven.

The NTV channel’s news anchor described the episode as an “espionage blockbuster”.

“The story is right out of the novels of the Cold War,” the anchor added.

The SVR (Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki or Foreign Intelligence Service) is in charge of external intelligence-gathering in modern Russia and traces its history back 90 years to the early era of the Soviet Union.

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