Russians Slough Off U.S. Allegations Of Spying For years, Russians were fascinated by their spies, even proud of them. Ten suspects have been arrested in the U.S. accused of spying for Russia. 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.
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Russians Slough Off U.S. Allegations Of Spying

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Russians Slough Off U.S. Allegations Of Spying

Russians Slough Off U.S. Allegations Of Spying

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly in for Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

By now the glamour shots and videos are all over the Internet of a woman named Anna Chapman. The pretty 28-year-old redhead is one of the suspects charged this week in an espionage case that reads like a Cold War spy novel. The accused are allegedly foreign agents for Russia who established comfortable lives in the U.S. Chapman started a business in Manhattan and was a fixture on social networking sites.

As NPR's David Greene reports from Moscow, Russian officials did not appreciate the U.S. going after her and her alleged conspirators.

DAVE GREENE: In Soviet times, one of the most popular fictional characters was a World War II spy named Stirlitz. He cracked Hitler's inner circle. He was in books, movies and this television series.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Seventeen Moments of Spring")

Unidentified Man: (Russian spoken)

GREENE: Here an announcer tells us what Stirlitz is reading - new orders from Moscow to target some undercover German agents. Stirlitz dramatically burns his written instructions in an ashtray.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Seventeen Moments of Spring")

GREENE: The bottom line: Russians were for years fascinated by their spies, even proud of them.

The nation's most popular politician, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was a KGB agent posted in East Germany. To some, Putin is a real-life Stirlitz.

All this is to say, when the U.S. arrested 10 people revealing their activities and accusing them of being illegal foreign agents, Putin was not happy.

Prime Minister VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Russian spoken)

GREENE: He actually had an American audience in Moscow: visiting former President Bill Clinton. You've come to Moscow at just the right time, Putin said to Clinton. Your police got carried away, putting people in jail. Putin said nothing about what the alleged spies were up to. While some Russian officials accused the U.S. of deliberately making these arrests at a moment when U.S./Russian ties were improving, Putin said he doesnt expect the cozier relations to be damaged.

On a sun-splashed plaza in Moscow this morning, most people said they had heard about the arrests.

Ms. NATALYA POZNYSHEVA: (Russian spoken)

GREENE: A provocation, said Natalya Poznysheva, planned at just the right time.

Mr. ALEXANDER IVANOVICH: It is ridiculous. For me it is ridiculous.

GREENE: Ridiculous, 65-year-old pensioner Alexander Ivanovich said, because based on what he'd read, the alleged foreign agents never had access to any real secrets. After watching television coverage of President Obama eating burgers with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev outside Washington last week, these arrests, Ivanovich said, give him a bad taste.

Mr. IVANOVICH: You have eaten something tasty, and after that you became you get such things like that. Our presidents have met each other, they have very good time in the bistro and I dont know where, and two days later or three days later, we receive such things. It is absolutely - nobody is interested in this.

GREENE: So while alleged spy Anna Chapman's videos are a sensation in the U.S. - videos where she talks about settling into life in New York, even inspiring entrepreneurs.

(Soundbite of video)

Ms. ANNA CHAPMAN: make them understand that all of this is possible and all dreams may come true.

GREENE: Is she Russia's, new Stirlitz? Maybe not.

David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.

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