The Russian Foreign Ministry has acknowledged that Russian citizens were arrested as spying suspects in the United States, but says they "did not commit any actions aimed against the interests of the United States."
A statement posted Tuesday on the ministry website said Russian authorities are assuming the suspects will be guaranteed normal treatment while in U.S. custody. It also said Moscow anticipates U.S. authorities will take into account "the positive character of the current state ... of Russian-American relations."
U.S. court papers describe 10 people arrested Sunday as "illegals" carrying out long-term, deep cover assignments in the United States for the Russian foreign intelligence service, SVR. In Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Asian Affairs Philip Gordon says U.S. diplomats are "engaged" with Moscow on the issue. He also says the administration remains focused on the improvement in bilateral ties over the past 18 months.
Asked about the timing of the arrest just days after a U.S. visit by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, Gordon said it underscores that the U.S. Department of Justice operates on its own timetable.
U.S. media reports say the suspects, charged with conspiracy and money laundering, had lived for more than a decade in U.S. cities and held non-governmental jobs - some of them in policy think-tanks and universities. An 11th suspect was arrested early Tuesday in Cyprus.
Related video report by Ravi Khanna
The alleged agents were directed to gather information on such subjects as nuclear weaponry, U.S. foreign policy and congressional politics. Court papers filed by U.S. prosecutors say the purpose of the suspected spy mission was detailed in an encrypted SVR message to suspects Richard and Cynthia Murphy.
Prosecutors say that message, intercepted and decoded by U.S. authorities, described the spy mission as "a long-term service trip." The message also said their "education, bank accounts, car, house, etc., serve one goal: ... to search and develop ties in policy making circles in the U.S." and to send intelligence reports to Moscow.
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of five years in prison, while the money laundering charge carries a 20-year maximum sentence.