Russian Spies: US Case Could Derail Medvedev, Boost Putin

By Weir, Fred | The Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 2010 | Go to article overview

Russian Spies: US Case Could Derail Medvedev, Boost Putin


Weir, Fred, The Christian Science Monitor


Russian spies case is believed in Moscow to be a plot by US hawks to undermine the US-Russia relationship. It could also hurt Medvedev's chances of beating Putin, an ex-KGB agent, in 2012 elections.

The Russian spy case, in which 10 alleged Russian spies were arrested just days after President Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev held one of the friendliest US-Russia meetings ever, looks like a carefully timed plot by disgruntled American hawks to reverse the warming relations.

At least, that is the nearly unanimous reaction to the scandal from Russian officials, security analysts, and political journalists.

"This scandal has been invented out of thin air," says Pavel Salin, an analyst with the Center for Political Trends, an independent Moscow think tank. "It's part of a backlash by US hawks to the improving relations between our countries. There are players on both sides who are still operating with a cold war mentality, and this is their way of working."

Many also believe that the scandal will badly hurt Mr. Medvedev ahead of 2012 presidential elections, in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB foreign intelligence officer whom some still see as the real leader of Russia, may sideline Medvedev with his considerable clout.

"It really looked like Medvedev was gaining points, starting to close the gap between him and Putin in terms of who is most capable," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow.

But now Medvedev looks like he fell into an American trap, by making concessions on Russia's Iran policy and other issues amid the warm glow of Obama's hospitality, then getting hit with these spy allegations just as he was leaving, Mr. Konovalov says.

"This scandal shows Medvedev as not so tough, not so experienced as the former intelligence officer Putin," in the eyes of people who really matter in Moscow, meaning the military and security establishment. "So, objectively, this can only play directly into Putin's hands," he adds.

'Very special timing'

All appear to agree that the timing of the arrest announcement - the day after Medvedev wound up a successful four-day trip to the US and Canada - must have been orchestrated for political effect.

The SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence agency, rebuffed all requests for comment Tuesday. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, currently visiting Israel, said only that "[The Americans] haven't explained what they mean" by the spying allegations. "I hope they will do so. The only thing I can say is that it was some sort of very special timing," he added.

Most Russian analysts say that the charges are part of a domestic plot against Obama - though some admit their perceptions of the US dynamic is based on how dirty politics would be played in Russia.

Spy scandals are often publicized in Russia during times of international tension, including the thrilling 2006 capture in Moscow of undercover British agents using electronic devices hidden in rocks when Russia-Britain relations were at low ebb. …

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