Russia on Tuesday condemned the United States for the arrest of an alleged Russian spy, condemning the move as a "provocation" that would further damage already strained ties.
U.S. counterintelligence agents arrested a Russian national Monday in New York City and charged him with espionage. Evgeny Buryakov, 39, and two other Russians — Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, who are not believed to be in the U.S. — were indicted on charges of spying and attempting to recruit people already living in the United States, including employees of major corporations and women connected to a major university.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tuesday denied the charges, saying the U.S. was resorting to "anti-Russian campaigning.'' He said "no evidence which would support such information has been presented. It seems that the American authorities have once again decided to resort to a favorite practice of unwinding espionage.''
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met Tuesday with John Tefft, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, to discuss "bilateral" issues, the ministry said.
According to a U.S. Justice Department complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan, the defendants were tasked by Russian authorities "to gather intelligence on, among other subjects, potential United States sanctions against Russian banks and the United States' efforts to develop alternative energy resources.''
Posing as an employee of the Russian bank Vnesheconombank, Buryakov broke U.S. law by not informing officials that he was in the country as a covert Russian intelligence operative, the complaint said. Federal prosecutors said Sporyshev, 40, worked as a Russian trade representative from November 2010 to November 2014, while Podobnyy, 27, was an attache to Russia's mission to the United Nations from December 2012 to September 2013.
Prosecutors said U.S. authorities gathered physical evidence and electronic data from many meetings, including several in which Buryakov met with an FBI agent posing as a wealthy investor intending to develop casinos in Russia. Between March 2012 and mid-September 2014, the FBI observed Buryakov and Sporyshev meeting 48 times in outdoor settings, the complaint said. Several of the meetings "involved Buryakov passing a bag, magazine or slip of paper to Sporyshev."
The investigation followed leads from a 2010 case resulting in the arrest of 10 covert agents working in the United States. All 10 pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to conspiracy charges and were extradited as part of a spy swap for four people convicted of betraying Moscow to the West.
The three Russian suspects each face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.S. is committed "to combating attempts by covert agents to illegally gather intelligence and recruit spies within the United States."
More than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, Russian spies continue to work in the U.S. and are a direct threat to U.S. national security, Justice Department officials said.