Russia-US spy scandal timing intentional: analysts

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The sudden spy scandal that erupted between Russia and the United States may not permanently hurt relations but its strange timing suggests elements are at work seeking to harm ties, analysts said Tuesday.

The announcement came just five days after President Barack Obama chomped on cheeseburgers with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as he made a state visit to the US and boasted the two leaders could "speak candidly."

"The most notable thing is the time when the scandal happened. The timing is not by chance," Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of "Russia in Global Politics" magazine, told AFP.

"I think that in the United States there is quite strong opposition to the policies of Obama and his course towards rapprochement with Russia. This scandal is a sign to his administration that it needs to be more careful."

The timing of the announcement straight after Medvedev's US visit seemed intended to undo the positive impressions from his much-photographed encounters with Obama and Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, experts said.

While visiting the US earlier this month, Medvedev toured Silicon Valley, lectured Stanford students and drank champagne with Schwarzenegger in a visit where he appeared unusually relaxed.

On Thursday, he lunched with Obama at a burger restaurant called Ray's Hell in a meal instantly termed by journalists as "burger diplomacy".

"It cannot be a coincidence that the group of 'exposed Russian spies' was arrested immediately after President Medvedev's visit to the US," Nikolai Kovalyov, a former director of the FSB state security service, told the Interfax news agency.

The scandal would harm Obama's reputation, Russian experts said, by implying that he lacked judgement in calling for a rapprochement with Russia under his "reset" policy.

The allegations came as "a serious blow primarily to the position of president Obama himself," Kovalyov told Interfax.

Obama "is shown in a bad light, as a politician who does not understand who he is being friends with," Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Institute of USA and Canada in Moscow, told AFP.

"The good aftertaste from Medvedev's visit has gone, all that's left is bitterness," he added.

While it was unclear what impact scandal would have on negotiations between the two countries, the spy scandal could hinder the ratification of a historic deal between the US and Russia to cut their nuclear stocks, experts said.

The two countries' leaders signed a new START arms control treaty in April, setting new limits on the number of nuclear-capable missiles, but it has yet to be ratified by the US Senate, and faces deep scepticism from Republicans.

"There will not be ratification of START before the November (mid-term) elections and after the elections it is even more doubtful," Kremenyuk predicted. The most weighty achievement of the reset will be thwarted."

But Obama would pursue his goals regardless, argued Alexander Golts, the deputy editor of Ezhednevny Zhurnal web site and a respected defence commentator.

The US president "needs to develop the reset for political reasons," he said. "After all this is the only successful avenue in his foreign policy."

The details of the spy scandal also sparked scepticism among Russian experts, who poured scorn on the alleged operation.

"The accusations sound funny," said Golts.

"They found out rumours circulating in the White House and also Obama's administration's plans on non-proliferation. All this could have been found out in the American newspapers."

The idea that a group of 10-11 people worked together in a spy ring "would provoke laughter from any professional," former FSB chief Kovalyov told Interfax.

"An illegal (agent) always has contact with just one person. That is the golden rule of any special service in the world."

© 2010 AFP

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