The US-Russia spy affair does not signify a rift between the two countries. On the contrary, it is a sign of hope that relations will improve further, says DW's Ingo Mannteufel.
At first glance, the spy swap between Russia and the US looks like something from the dark days of the Cold War - on Friday, for the first time since 1986, the US and Russia engaged in a comprehensive spy swap, just days after the 10 Russian spies were arrested in the US after an alleged decade of surveillance.
But appearances are deceptive. This incident is not a sign of a return to the Cold War between Russia and the US. The fact that this spy ring was uncovered does not mean Russian-American relations will deteriorate.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. The timing of the disclosure is unlikely to be a coincidence. If the spy ring has indeed been under surveillance for nearly 10 years, then what is behind this official announcement - just days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was in Washington for talks with his US counterpart Barack Obama - is a calculated and well thought-out plan.
DW's Ingo Mannteufel
'Resetting' of relations
Obama's Russia policy differs from that of his predecessor George W. Bush in that it tries to engage with Russia, despite the differences between the two countries, rather than isolate the former superpower.
The Obama administration tries to build on common interests like nuclear disarmament to foster a partnership with Russia that will eventually benefit other US foreign policy goals - in particular, the US hopes to get Russian support for the mission in Afghanistan and its policy on alleged nuclear weapons being developed in Iran.
This approach, which has been dubbed a "reset" of relations by the US administration, has already proved to be successful in the first year of Obama's presidency, when Russia and the US signed the successor to the START agreement on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Russia has also taken a harder line against Iran.
When the global financial crisis took hold, Moscow finally understood that Russia cannot modernize and become a viable economic power without the help of Western allies. Russia is well aware that it needs US investment as well as US support for its membership in the World Trade Organization.
The US has turned over a new leaf in its relations with Russia
Clearing the air
The spy swap should be seen against the backdrop of this new strategic approach of resetting US-Russian relations. The uncovering of a major Russian spy ring in the US and the subsequent swift exchange of agents sends yet another signal, even in the highly sensitive area of espionage, that Obama and Medvedev are serious about resetting relations. The US has thwarted a comprehensive and protracted intelligence project by the Russian secret service, hoping that Russia will reduce its intelligence gathering in the US.
It is unlikely, however, that Russia will stop its intelligence operations in the US altogether. Even in Germany, despite good relations between Moscow and Berlin, the Russian secret service is very active, according to Germany's internal security agency. But Medvedev is bound to have understood this latest signal coming from Washington and it is a good basis for a further strengthening of US-Russian relations in that vein.
Author: Ingo Mannteufel/ng
Editor: Martin Kuebler