Bemused Russians spy a conspiracy against President Obama

View from Moscow

The American security services have gone rogue. If you believe the Russian press, that's the only logical explanation for the eruption of the current bizarre spy scandal.

If it is usual practice for governments caught spying to remain silent or issue faux-outraged denials, the Russian government's initial reaction to the arrest of 11 people, at least some of whom it has admitted are its citizens, was true to form. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Bill Clinton the American police were "out of control", "throwing people in jail", and the Foreign Ministry called the allegations "baseless".

But in the past three days the mood in official Moscow has gradually changed. Not much more has been said: Putin and President Medvedev have kept a calm, unflappable silence on the affair and the Russian Foreign Ministry has said only that it hoped to offer its citizens appropriate consular assistance. But there's something in the air that is at the same time conciliatory and unapologetic.

"Russians think their security services should work actively and spy on America," said Sergei Markov, an MP for the ruling United Russia party. "It's understood that the Americans should guard their territory, so what's strange? Most Russians think of it like a football match."

But, as Markov admitted, losing 10- nil is never easy. And the loss of 10 agents (the 11th, Christopher Robert Metsos, seems to have escaped after jumping bail in Cyprus and had not resurfaced last night) and revelations about broken laptops, agents posting their details on Facebook and banal arguments with Moscow over the price of a mortgage have put a dent in the beloved foreign intelligence service's mystique.

"Imagine if James Bond opened his box of tricks and inside there was some grilled chicken, a pair of socks and a picture of a girl with a note saying, 'When you get back don't forget to mow the lawn,'" moaned Moskovsky Komsomolets, a Russian tabloid.

But the chief feeling is of bewilderment. Why, Russians are asking over and over again, would the Americans do something like this just after the friendly meeting between Medvedev and Obama? (The FBI's story – that they swooped because the suspects were about to flee – is almost universally derided.) "Personally, I think they were trying to cover up the scandal they have with that oil spill in Louisiana," suggested an accountant from Moscow.

A blogger for the liberal Echo of Moscow radio station had other ideas. "It's either self-promotion by security services fishing for more funding, the Americans trying to sabotage the reset in relations, or the Democrats trying to wring more concessions from Russia," he declared. But the most popular theory, reported amongst others by Kommersant, a reputable daily and Russia's paper of record, is that "the interests of the FBI took precedence over those of the state".

"It's America's problem," shrugged Alexei Mukhin, director of a usually well-informed think tank, when asked if the scandal could affect relations. He compared the American political structure to the Russian siloviki, the hard-line ex-spies said to surround Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. "The American siloviki decided to show Medvedev that not everything is so smooth in Russian-American relations. And they really set up their own President Obama. It's hard to imagine anything like that happening here if Obama had just visited."

And that, of course, explains the Government's relative calm. According to Markov, the Kremlin has identified two main goals: "To support Obama against his enemies and not to rock the boat."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most