Russia dismisses talk of new spy scandal with US

Reuters, MOSCOW

Sat, Oct 06, 2012 - Page 7

Russia said on Thursday the Kremlin had nothing to do with a network alleged by the US to be smuggling military technology to Moscow.

The US Department of Justice said on Wednesday it had broken up an elaborate network aimed at illegally acquiring US-made microelectronic components for Russian military and spy agencies. It charged 11 people with taking part.

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed surprise at the allegations.

“The charges are of a criminal nature and have nothing to do with intelligence activity,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russian news agencies.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Washington had informed Moscow that the charges were criminal and unrelated to espionage.

“We will look into this situation and what really happened and what charges are being imposed on our citizens,” he said.

Lukashevich said US authorities had “not properly informed” Russia of the arrest of its citizens. Russian diplomats were seeking access to them and a consul had met one in a courtroom, he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview this week that Moscow and Washington must do more to strengthen relations.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has accused US President Barack Obama of being soft on Moscow during his four-year term and described Russia as the US’ “number one geopolitical foe.”

In 2010, the US arrested 10 suspected Russian agents who were later sent back to Russia in the biggest spy swap since the Cold War.

The US Justice Department said 11 people — and companies based in Houston, Texas and Moscow — had been accused on Wednesday of illegally exporting high-tech components to Russian security agencies. The US companies from whom the components were bought were not identified.

A US official said Alexander Fishenko, a Kazakhstan native who migrated to the US in 1994 and has frequently travelled to Russia, had been charged with operating in the US as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. He was being held in custody with seven others in Houston.

The US Department of Justice said three others were in Russia including Sergei Klinov, identified as chief executive of Apex System, which it said served as a certified supplier of military equipment to Russia’s government, working through subsidiaries.

Klinov, reached by telephone in his office in Moscow, said he had learned about the accusations from media reports.

“Honestly, I am very upset. I just don’t know what to say. Everyone has his own truth and it is somewhere in the middle,” he said.

Asked whether he worked either for the security services or for the Russian Defence Ministry, he said: “I am floored by this. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), successor of the KGB, and the Defence Ministry both denied immediate comment. FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov later told Russian news agencies he had ordered the security services to look into the matter and that it would be premature to comment.