Angry Putin issues warning to US over damaged relations

Ties between Russia and the United States were placed under an unexpected new strain yesterday as Vladimir Putin reacted angrily to the arrest of a ring of 10 alleged under-cover agents, telling the US: "Your police have let themselves go."

The suspects are accused of posing for years as ordinary Americans while seeking to infiltrate "policy-making circles" in Washington and pass intelligence back to Russia.

Yesterday an 11th suspect was arrested at Larnaca airport in Cyprus. Described by American prosecutors as a money-man for other members of the ring, he had been using the name Christopher Metsos and professed to be of Canadian citizenship. He was preparing to board a plane for Budapest when he was picked up.

Yesterday, the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, told the former US president Bill Clinton, who was in Moscow to speak at an investment conference: "Your police have let themselves go. They are putting people to prison. We hope that positive things achieved in recent years will be preserved. We also hope that people who value good relations understand that." The Russian Foreign Ministry branded the arrests "baseless and improper", but acknowledged last night that "some" of those arrested were of Russian nationality.

The round-up came immediately after a visit by President Dmitry Medvedev to the US, which had been hailed as further evidence of the successful "re-setting" of relations. He stopped in Silicon Valley and met President Obama.

The Obama administration yesterday sought to lessen the diplomatic fallout. "We were not going to forgo the opportunity to pursue our common interests because there are things we disagreed on," Phil Gordon, the top Russia policy official at the State Department, told reporters. "I think you should see this spying issue in that context."

The US Justice Department later said that the swoop had been triggered by the fact that one of the suspects was planning to leave the US and had to be taken into custody before he left. None of those in custody was charged directly with espionage, but rather with operating as intelligence gatherers on US soil without declaring themselves. In Cold War parlance they would be described as "illegals" with no direct connection to diplomats and thus no legal immunity.

References to fake British and Irish passports sounded alarm bells in London and Dublin. "We are aware that the indictments state that one of the accused has travelled on a UK passport," the Foreign Office said. "We will be investigating this fully with the US. We are establishing the facts."

The scale of the purported operation was a surprise to veterans of the Cold War. "The magnitude, and the fact that so many illegals were involved, was a shock to me," Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general, who spied in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, told The New York Times. "It's a return to the old days, but even in the worst years of the Cold War, I think there were no more than 10 illegals in the US, probably fewer."

Despite Mr Putin's statement, there was no word of possible Russian retaliation yesterday. Some in Moscow speculated that conservative figures in the US were behind the round-up in an effort to up-end Mr Obama's courting of President Medvedev.

"Why these arrests happened just days after the Russian and American presidents met is understandable. Barack Obama has serious enemies among the Republicans, [who] have always been strongly represented in the American secret services," Mikhail Lyubimov, a former intelligence officer, told a Russian tabloid. But Sergei Markov, an MP from the ruling United Russia party, said the Americans had acted "properly" by waiting until Mr Medvedev had left before they swooped.

A son of a couple arrested in Yonkers, just north of New York City, said the charges against his mother, Vicky Palaez, a leading Spanish-language journalist in the city, and his step-father, Juan Lazaro, were "preposterous" and not believable. "We always had a very simple lifestyle," Waldo Mariscal, an architect, insisted.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game