Washington and Moscow are playing down the Cold War thriller aspect of their latest spying row, insisting it will not harm warming relations.
However, bearing in mind last week’s meetings between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, and the jackets-off atmosphere of their “burger summit”, the timing of the FBI’s swoop on the alleged sleeper cells is stirring lively comment.
Court papers say the suspected spies went to the USA in the 1990s, and were reportedly tracked for years. However, it is claimed they were gathering intelligence rather than stealing secrets. A former CIA man and director of Washington’s International Spy Museum, Peter Earnest, casts a sceptical eye on the incident.
Earnest said: “Rolling in and wrapping up this network right after Medvedev has visited, you ask yourself: ‘Are we sending a message? Are we saying, look, we know all about this; let’s not do this anymore? Or: Don’t you do this any more.’ I think it is interesting that this time was chosen to wrap up this network.”
No-one is yet suggesting the alleged moles were undermining US security or doing any damage, and the media have been quick to focus on one of the suspects, who called herself Anna Chapman, putting her glamorous photos on front pages and on television.