Russia Indignant Over U.S. 'Spy' Expulsion

Martin Nesirky

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service reacted indignantly on Thursday to a U.S. decision to expel a Russian diplomat, saying Moscow had long since given up the Cold War practice of tit-for-tat spy expulsions.

Bilateral relations, already at a post-Cold War low, took a further knock on Wednesday when Washington ordered out second secretary Stanislav Gusev. It said he had been caught monitoring a listening device found in a State Department conference room.

Last week, Russia gave a U.S. embassy second secretary, Cheri Leberknight, 10 days to leave after Russian counter-intelligence said it had caught her red-handed and equipped with James Bond-style spy gadgets.

"I think there is a certain sequence here," Boris Labusov, spokesman for SVR Foreign Intelligence Service, told Reuters. It is extremely unusual for the SVR to comment on spying cases and Labusov was careful not to confirm or deny Gusov was an agent.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Jim Foley said Gusev had been declared "persona non grata" and given 10 days to leave the United States. A U.S. official said Washington had known about the bugging operation for some time.

"We think this detention and the further expulsion of the Russian diplomat from the United States can be regarded as a reaction of the American side to the latest events in Moscow connected with the detention and expulsion of an American diplomat," Labusov said.

No Eye For An Eye

"If it is a reaction...we can only be sorry about it," he said. "As far as the Russian side is concerned, we gave up the principle of an eye for an eye long ago."

But RIA news agency quoted an unnamed senior government official as saying there could be more expulsions.

"The clear and crude fabrication of allegations against a Russian diplomat is reminiscent of the Cold War era," RIA quoted the source as saying.

The Russian Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the Washington expulsion.

Russia said on November 30 that Leberknight had been detained. The day before, U.S. military officials said they had charged U.S. navy code breaker Daniel King with selling data to Moscow.

Russian and U.S. officials said at the time that sequence of events was purely coincidental.

A U.S. embassy spokesman said by telephone on Thursday Leberknight had not left Moscow yet but declined to say when she would leave. RIA news agency said she would go on Friday.

Allegations of spying between Russia and the United States have become surprisingly common.

Moscow's relations with the West are already strained over a range of issues including Russia's military campaign in Chechnya and Washington's plans for a national missile defense shield.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sought to play down recent harsh remarks from Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton, saying it was wrong to say relations had worsened.

"I do hope all these incidents will not hamper progress in bilateral relations," the SVR's Labusov said, referring to the spy row.

See also:
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  • Unequal Justice