US and Russia try to limit spy-row fallout

Russian agent alleges second spying case, as US ambassador to Moscow meets foreign ministry officials to explain.

    A Russian security services operative has gone on state television to claim that the US diplomat  ordered out of the country was the second American expelled this year over spying allegations.

    The anonymous operative said on Wednesday that the CIA had failed to halt this "disturbing activity'' despite Moscow asking it to do so.

    The revelation came after Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Moscow, met officials at the Russian foreign ministry after Russia ordered the expulsion of the alleged CIA agent, accusing him of recruiting a Russian agent.

    The Federal Security Service (FSB) identified the man as Ryan Fogle, the third secretary of the political section of Washington's embassy in Moscow, and said he had been handed back to the embassy after his detention.

    The foreign ministry said that Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had issued a protest to McFaul, who left the foreign ministry office on Wednesday with no comment, confirming that Fogle had to leave in the "shortest possible time".

    'Clumsy recruitment'

    The man, who was carrying a "typical espionage arsenal" of money and disguises like wigs and spectacles, is said to have been working undercover as a low-ranking third secretary at the US embassy.

    "To say the least, we are surprised by the extremely crude and clumsy recruitment" that came after pledges by both sides to improve co-operation, said President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov, quoted by ITAR-TASS.

    Ushakov also expressed surprise that it appeared vows by Putin and President Barack Obama for special services to work closer together had not filtered through to the CIA or the US embassy.

    But Ushakov also announced that Russian national security chief Nikolai Patrushev would visit the United States May 20-21, possibly carrying a message on bilateral relations from Putin to Obama.

    Al Jazeera's David Chater, reporting from Moscow, said it is unusual for diplomats to make a statement responding to any sort of spy scandal. He said McFaul was doing a Twitter Q&A when the news broke and he was immediately swamped with calls about the spy scandal.

    Photographs published by the state English-language broadcaster RT showed a baseball-capped Fogle being held to the ground face down and having his hands put behind his back for the arrest.

    He was then shown being questioned at the Federal Security Service while documents such as his passport and a stack of 500-euro notes along with some letters were displayed.

    The FSB footage also displayed supposed espionage equipment including wigs, a torch, compass and even a mundane atlas of Moscow as well as a somewhat old-fashioned mobile phone.

    The photos published by RT also showed a document entitled "printed instructions for the Russian citizen being recruited."

    Russia-US relations

    In a video that RT said was provided by the FSB, Fogle is seen sitting down as a man, presumably a Russian security officer, tells the suspect about his alleged crime.

    He is then accused of offering $100,000 for espionage to a security service employee who is involved in counterinsurgency work in the Russian North Caucasus.

    "We did not believe this at first, because as you know the FSB has been actively helping the investigation of the Boston blasts," the officer says as Fogle and three men silently listen with arms crossed.

    The incident comes amid a new downturn in Russian-US relations sparked by the Syrian crisis and concern in Washington over what it sees as President Vladimir Putin's crackdown on all dissent. 

    Nevertheless, both sides appeared keen to avoid inflammatory rhetoric at a  time when they are engaged in sensitive diplomacy aimed at ending the conflict in Syria.

    Analysts said the fact that the case received such media attention means that senior Russian leaders had decided to use the arrest to make a political point to Washington.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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