Russia demands explanation over spy scandal

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Russia on Tuesday demanded an explanation from the United States 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 four billion dollars and 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 told AFP, 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 United States said Monday 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.

Later Tuesday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was scheduled to meet with former US president Bill Clinton but the two men would not discuss the spy scandal, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying.

"We are not commenting on this situation in any way," Peskov said, adding Putin, who worked for the KGB Soviet intelligence, and Clinton would discuss "conceptual issues of the development of ties between Russia and the United States."

Peskov declined immediate comment when reached by AFP. Clinton is in Moscow to attend an investor conference.

A Kremlin spokesman contacted by AFP said the Kremlin did not intend to comment on the matter unless Medvedev himself wished to issue a statement.

Russian national television channels were carrying the news as the main item on their morning news broadcasts but also emphasizing 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 -- 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.

© 2010 AFP

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