Kremlin says spy scandal will not halt push for closer Russia-US ties

Two CIA agents expelled this year for trying to recruit Russian spies, Moscow claims

US ambassador Michael McFaul arrives at the Russian foreign ministry headquarters in Moscow yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

US ambassador Michael McFaul arrives at the Russian foreign ministry headquarters in Moscow yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

Thu, May 16, 2013, 01:00

Russian president Vladimir Putin will look beyond this week’s unmasking of a CIA agent in Moscow to seek greater co-operation between the Russian and US security services, according to a top Kremlin official.

Yuri Ushakov, Mr Putin’s senior adviser on foreign affairs, said a “constructive” letter from Russia’s leader would be delivered to US president Barack Obama next Monday during a visit to Washington by Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s security council.

Mr Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, handed a letter to Mr Putin last month in which the US leader made proposals for improving frosty ties between Moscow and Washington.

Mr Putin’s reply would address US plans for a missile defence system in Europe that Russia opposes “and contain a clear passage on the necessity and importance – especially in light of the terrorist situation – of close co-operation between the special services”, Mr Ushakov said.

Boston bombings
The Tsarnaev brothers who are suspected of bombing the Boston marathon last month hail from the restive North Caucasus, where Russia is fighting a separatist Islamic insurgency.

While US and Russian intelligence services say they are co-operating on the case, both sides have also complained about the other’s handling of the matter and willingness to share information.

Tension between the security services – fierce enemies during the cold war – grew this week when Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed to have caught a CIA agent trying to persuade a counter-terrorism official working in the North Caucasus to spy for the US.

Ryan Fogle, officially a US diplomat in Moscow, was shown on Russian state television being detained wearing a flimsy disguise of cheap blond wig and baseball cap, and then being lectured by an FSB official on how he was damaging US-Russian relations.

“It is surprising that this coarse, clumsy attempt at recruitment occurred against the backdrop of the clearly expressed views of President Obama and President Putin, regarding the importance of enhancing co-operation and contact between intelligence agencies,” Mr Ushakov said.

He stressed, however, that Mr Fogle’s capture and expulsion were unlikely “to significantly affect co-operation” between the US and Russia.

The FSB revealed yesterday that another CIA agent masquerading as a diplomat had been expelled from Moscow in January, for trying to recruit a Russian security official.

That case was kept quiet and Russia asked the US to halt such activity, an FSB officer told state television.