Russian officials have said they caught a US diplomat red-handed trying to recruit an agent. The revelation comes at a time of tension in bilateral relations and has triggered speculation on Moscow's political motives.
A US diplomat was detained by authorities in Moscow overnight after they found him in possession of spy paraphernalia, according to a statement released Tuesday by Russia's Federal Security Service.
The security agency later returned the accused, Ryan Fogle, to the US Embassy where he worked as third secretary. Russia's foreign ministry then summoned US Ambassador Michael McFaul.
McFaul was reportedly participating in a live Question and Answer session on Twitter when Russian authorities apprehended Fogle, but declined to comment on the situation.
As the public learned of the allegations, Russia television released photos of the alleged suspect being held face down on the ground as he was placing his hands behind his head. News coverage also broadcast photos of the "special technical equipment" confiscated by the Federal Security Service: wigs, a torch, a compass, a cell phone, and a large sum of money in denominations of 500 euros ($648).
A recruitment letter addressed to "Dear Friend," also confiscated from Fogle, reportedly offered the recipient $100,000 for information and up to $1 million for long-term cooperation.
Tuesday's statement from the Russian security agency said that the US espionage operations had been on the rise.
"Recently American intelligence has made multiple attempts to recruit employees of Russian law enforcement organs and special agencies, which have been detected and monitored by Russian FSB counterintelligence," it said.
The US and Russia have continued to carry out espionage operations against each other in the years following the Cold War. In 2010, US authorities arrested Anna Chapman and 10 other Russian spies and then exchanged them for four Russians convicted of spying for the West.
It was unclear what effect the alleged espionage case would have on US-Russia relations, which have chilled this year in large part due to differing policies on international intervention in Syria.
Tuesday's allegations came just days after a diplomatic visit by Secretary of State John Kerry which he called a "real breakthrough" in talks on Syria.
Moscow opposes international intervention and has reportedly supplied Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime with missiles, which it says were ordered before the war broke out three years ago. Meanwhile, the US and Western powers have been supplying the opposition forces with non-lethal aid, while pushing for urgent action.
kms/rg (AP, AFP, Reuters)