The State Department said Tuesday the break-up of an alleged Russian spy ring by U.S. law enforcement officials need not derail Obama administration efforts to improve relations with Moscow. The spy arrests come less than a week after a Washington visit by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.
Officials here say no one should be surprised by the alleged spy case, and that the Obama administration intends to keep on pursuing a better working relationship with Moscow despite the arrests of 10 alleged Russian agents in the United States.
At a news briefing, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Philip Gordon said when President Obama began his efforts to re-set the U.S.-Russian relationship 18 months ago, some disagreements and problems were expected to remain and the spy case should be seen in that context.
Gordon said U.S. diplomats have raised the issue with Russian officials in both Washington and Moscow, but gave no details. He said he was, at this point, unaware of potential diplomatic expulsions stemming from the case.
Gordon said the two sides have moved beyond the Cold War and toward a more trusting relationship, but apparently not far enough to prompt Moscow to abandon intelligence operations in the United States.
"We would like to get to the point where there is just so much trust and cooperation between the United States and Russia that nobody would think of turning to intelligence means to find out things that they couldn't find out in other channels," said Gordon. "We're apparently not there yet. I don't think anyone in this room is shocked to have discovered that."
Some news reports suggested Obama administration officials were unhappy with the timing of the announcement of the arrests, just days after the Medvedev visit.
There was no public criticism, however, of the Justice Department's handling of the case. Acting State Department Spokesman Gordon Duguid said law enforcement authorities acted on their own timetable.
"I have to refer you to them for their statement on why it was that they moved on the particular day that they did," said Duguid. "I do know that the administration is committed to protecting the security of the United States, and the Department of Justice seems to have moved in that role forcefully."
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told visiting former U.S. President Bill Clinton he hoped the spy case does not damage recent positive gains in the bilateral relationship.
Asked about the comment, a senior official here, who spoke on grounds of anonymity, said he wished Russian officials had thought about that before mounting the intelligence operation.