Russians Slough Off U.S. Allegations Of Spying

This image from a Russian social networking website shows a woman identified as Anna Chapman. i i

This undated image from the Russian social networking website Odnoklassniki, or Classmates, shows a woman whom journalists have identified as Anna Chapman. Besides being accused of espionage, Chapman has become an Internet sensation. AP hide caption

itoggle caption AP
This image from a Russian social networking website shows a woman identified as Anna Chapman.

This undated image from the Russian social networking website Odnoklassniki, or Classmates, shows a woman whom journalists have identified as Anna Chapman. Besides being accused of espionage, Chapman has become an Internet sensation.

AP

Russian foreign agents? Arrested in the United States?

The accusations weren't exactly a bombshell in Moscow — after all, Russians say the Cold War is the past, and espionage seems like an old art.

Yet, annoyance it was.

"Your police got carried away, putting people in jail," said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, referring to the U.S. arrests of 10 people accused of being illegal foreign agents.

Putin was meeting Tuesday with former President Bill Clinton, and seemed to delight in having a high-profile American as his audience.

"You've come to Moscow at just the right time," Putin said.

Other Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, suggested that some in the U.S. government timed the arrests to poison ever-warming relations between the two countries. Yet Putin, for his complaints, said he didn't expect those relations to be damaged.

For years, Russians were fascinated by their spies, even proud of them.

In this courtroom sketch, some of the defendants are seen in Manhattan federal court i i

In this courtroom sketch, defendants are seen Monday in federal court in New York. They are among 10 people the FBI arrested for allegedly serving for years as secret agents of Russia's intelligence agency, the SVR, with the goal of penetrating U.S. government policymaking circles. Elizabeth Williams/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Elizabeth Williams/AP
In this courtroom sketch, some of the defendants are seen in Manhattan federal court

In this courtroom sketch, defendants are seen Monday in federal court in New York. They are among 10 people the FBI arrested for allegedly serving for years as secret agents of Russia's intelligence agency, the SVR, with the goal of penetrating U.S. government policymaking circles.

Elizabeth Williams/AP

During Soviet times, one of the most popular fictional characters was a World War II spy named Stirlitz who infiltrated Hitler's inner circle. Stirlitz was a household name, a character in books, movies and on television.

What's more, Russia's most popular politician — Putin — was a KGB agent posted in East Germany in the 1980s. Putin was known to revere Stirlitz's character, and some Russians see Putin as a real-life version of the suave character.

On a sun-splashed plaza in Moscow, most passers-by said they had heard about the arrests in the U.S.

"A provocation," said Natalya Poznysheva, 55, who works at a bank, "planned at just the right time."

Moscow pensioner Alexander Ivanovich called the arrests "ridiculous." He read about how the charges against the alleged foreign agents mentioned no sacred information they had passed on. As he put it, "what secrets could they actually get?"

Ivanovich added that he had seen television coverage of President Obama eating burgers with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev outside Washington, D.C., last week. These arrests left Ivanovich with a bad taste.

"You have eaten something tasty, and after that you get some things like that. Our presidents have met each other, they have very good time in bistro," he said. "And two days, three days later, we receive such a thing. Nobody is interested in this."

Americans seem interested. One of the accused, 28-year-old Anna Chapman, has become an Internet sensation. Videos of her are spreading online, with Chapman talking about settling into life in New York, even offering advice to would-be entrepreneurs.

But to Russians, is Chapman the new Stirlitz? Maybe not.

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