TODAY: Russian officials see anti-reset conspiracy in spy case; story met with mockery in some media quarters; US assures that issue won’t hurt ties; Clinton and Putin discuss matter. Major democratic decline reported in Russia; Limonov to form new opposition party for 2011; gulags remembered online; fears for the stability of Central Asia; smuggling; painting diplomacy
Russian officials have reportedly suggested that the suburban spy ring arrests could be a specific attempt by an anti-Russia lobby to undermine the Obama reset. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has doused his reaction in sarcasm commenting, ‘the choice of timing was particularly graceful‘. Mikhail Lyubimov, a writer and former member of the SVR suggests that the FBI manufactured the case to tarnish the image of Russia. Were the arrests motivated by another political objective? The Economist suggests ‘that the FBI was encouraged to prosecute this lot as a way of strengthening the hand of President Dmitry Medvedev against the siloviki’. A certain layer of mockery is palpable in many media reactions to the case: AFP reports that the Russian newspapers see ‘more politics than intelligence’ in the ‘sham spy‘ story. David Hearst in the Guardian is baffled by what he views as the amateurishness of methods. ‘It is laughable that they posed any threat to the American people’, adds Simon Jenkins. ‘Feckless’ and ‘nutty’ are two of the adjectives used to describe the events in this article. It is not just the lack of secrets that has raises eyebrows, but the expense of such a mission. Nonetheless certain commentators find the story credible, with ex-double agent Oleg Gordievsky saying that there many be as many as 40-50 couples working in deep-cover in the US; others are not surprised by the allegedly ‘outdated’ methods, arguing human intelligence remains most effective.
‘Every country is at it’, so why should the affair spoil US-Russia relations? wonders the Guardian. Vladimir Putin has told former U.S. President Bill Clinton at a meeting yesterday, ‘you have come to Moscow at the exact right time […] Your police have gotten carried away, putting people injail’. Nonethelessthe Prime Minister asserted that Russia-U.S. relations were developing well. The State Department has issued reassurances that theUS will continue to nurture good relations with Moscow and that the case will not affect the positive steps made in the reset. The Telegraph has a who’s who of the 11 suspects, which count a photogenic businesswoman and a respected Peruvian journalist among them. Excerpts from the Justice Department Papers on the spy ring can be consulted here.
A Freedom House survey has concluded that Russia has experienced the worst decline in democracy over the past decade than any other post-communist country. Opposition leader Eduard Limonov has announced that he plans to transform the Other Russia coalition into a new political party ahead of the 2011 State Duma elections. The new party will ‘demand the abolition of registration for political parties, and also participation in elections for all those who wish to’. The Russian human rights center Memorial has launched an online museum on the history of the gulags, RFE/RL reports.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has told an OSCE forum that he fears that instability in Kyrgyzstan could precipitate destabilization across the whole of Central Asia. Yulia Latynina agrees that there’s major cause for concern. A freeze in relations would ‘have very bad consequences for Russia’, a confident Alexander Lukashenko has told CNN.
An unusual form of contraband is slipping across the Russia-China border, the New York Times reports. Artist and reformer Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s son, has warmed relations with Russia by exhibiting his paintings in Moscow.
PHOTO: Bill Clinton met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, June 29, 2010. (Pool photograph by Alexey Druginyn)