Russia outraged by US fraud charges against diplomats
Russia voiced outrage Friday at charges in the United States against 49 current and former Russian diplomats and their wives over a $1.5 million fraud, saying it could not understand why the US had gone public with the allegations.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a statement to Russian news agencies that Moscow had many claims against the behaviour of US diplomats in Moscow but had preferred not to bring them into the public sphere.
"We categorically reject the charges against the staff of Russian diplomatic institutions in the United States," he was quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency, saying it was "illegal" for diplomats to have been watched by the authorities in this way.
"If the American authorities have claims against our citizens... they should have been made first through diplomatic channels. This is no more than cheap PR and an attempt to fulfil an order by Russophobes in the US," he added.
Ryabkov hinted that Russia had many allegations it could lay against American diplomatic staff if it so desired but said Moscow had preferred stay quiet.
"We have many claims against how American embassy staff work and act. But we do not want to go down the path of a rhetorical war of mutual accusations," he said.
The scandal risks causing a new crisis in US-Russia relations which have already been scarred by Russia's decision to grant asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden and a host of other issues.
There had been signs in the last weeks of a better atmosphere, particularly after Washington and Moscow worked together on a deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons and have attempted to realise a plan for a peace conference on the Syrian conflict.
Ryabkov said the case had been created by those in the United States who wanted to spoil constructive tendencies in US-Russia relations.
"Someone in Washington needed to spoil the atmosphere -- we cannot see this any other way."
The alleged scam took place between 2004 and August 2013, when the suspects were based at the Russian mission to the United Nations, the Russian consulate and the Russian trade mission, all in New York.
All the defendants have diplomatic immunity and none have been arrested following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
© 2013 AFP