The ten Russians arrested in the US along with an eleventh reportedly picked up in Cyprus were popped as the FBI finally wrapped up an investigation which started even as the Republicans in the House of Representatives were protecting American morality by impeaching the president. The timing of the Feebs' move is open to question.
Not even the most pessimistic assessment of the long and winding road of Russian plotting gives any hint that the Moscow Moles were anywhere near any key to any executive lavatory. The snippets of documents filed by the Department of Justice (at least as quoted in the several media accounts) make for fun reading by devotees of the spy versus spy genre but show no real evidence of any honest-to-gosh, bottled in bond, US government secrets.
On the US side the nearly twenty year caper complete with codes and cyphers, false identities, dead drops and brush passes to say nothing of wiretaps, surveillance teams, black bag jobs, and all the other features of a trade craft based spy yarn is portrayed as a major success against a crafty, dedicated, and omnipresent adversary. A reminder, according to at least one old time Soviet secret agent, of the worse days of Cold War excess.
The Russian response has been restrained--at least by Kremlin standards of the past. The Lads in the (New) Kremlin allow as how the people arrested may have been Russian nationals but will not go so far as to concede that their purposes in traveling under false names may have been nefarious in the slightest. Vladimir (The Good Czar) Putin did go a bit ballistic, averring that the "US police had gone out of control" in comments to visiting Bill Clinton.
Vlad Of The Bare Chest did seem more concerned over the timing of the Department of Justice action and its possible aftershocks than he did the slight problem of Russians being caught in rather flagrant disregard of normal protocol. At first the Russian Foreign Ministry took much the same line, noting that the episode should be viewed in the context of the improving relations between Russia and the US.
However, the Foreign Ministry did harden its position a few hours later. The new, improved narrative took the view that the arrests must be seen as an attempt by unnamed but certainly sinister forces to erode the new harmony between the Men in the Kremlin and the Guy in the Oval. There were dark ruminations about similar incidents in the past which always, in the Foreign Ministry's eyes, took place during times of improving relations. The parallel was obvious; by the timing of the arrests and the relative lack of harm done the US, someone in the US government was doing his evil best to toss a spanner in the works.
The timing was a bit odd, considering that only a few days earlier, President Obama had been making ever-so-nice with Dimitri Medvedev. Both men had toasted the successful pushing of assorted "reset" buttons. The Nice Young Man Of The People From Chicago took his counterpart out to a nearby and apparently renowned throughout the world hamburger joint for a quick bite of an appropriately populist food. Smiles all around.
The Russians have been playing the espionage game against the US without pause during and after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Despite changes in name, alterations in the form of government, reduction in geographic extent, erosion of military, economic, and diplomatic power, the game went on. Changes in Russia of a more positive nature since the emergence of Putin and his protegee, Medvedev, would or have served to change the nature and character of the game.
The Russians have a long history of using espionage as a preferred tool of state. Quite often, regardless of the nature or the regime, czar, commissar, or president, the Russians have used espionage to their advantage. The directors of FBI, CIA, and the Office of National Intelligence have all stated on the public record that Russian espionage had continued year after year at or above the level achieved during the Cold War. No one familiar with the spy-versus-spy scene has found a need to dissent from this appreciation.
It has been fashionable for some years within the ever-so-progressive circles of the American hoi olligoi to poo-poo the assessments offered by the US intelligence community regarding the unchanging nature of the Russian love of espionage or its targeting of the US as the "main enemy" as so much Cold War alarmist rhetoric spewed in support of ever greater budgets. It never crossed the closed minds of the "progressives" that maybe, just maybe, the professionals in the wild and wacky world of espionage might possibly know what they were talking about.
The arrests and their high profile juxtaposition with the heady, dare one write, "giddy," meeting of Obama with Medvedev may serve as a healthy corrective for all those in government as well as outside that the Russians play a very hardball game in pursuing national interest. The mere fact that the Russian clandestine service was willing to invest quite a few years in establishing the bona fides of their agents, quite a few patient years of moving their pawns into potential positions of access to critical information found in venues outside of the official agencies, shows a deep commitment to the art and craft of espionage. The fact that the controllers back at Center were content to wait more years before having any real chance of a payoff underscores both the commitment to and high appreciation for the results of spying.
Regardless of what any member of the American elite might wish, Russia is not and will never be an American "friend." This is true not because the Russian government is necessarily and automatically hostile to the US. Rather it is the result of the realistic and realpolitck nature of the Russian pursuit of national interest. The Russians understand that friendship exists only between people, individuals. It does not exist, cannot exist, between states.
It was an English Foreign Secretary who once observed that states have neither lasting friends nor lasting enemies, only lasting interests. The Russians are in tandem with this concept.
Look at it this way. Just because the Russians spy on us doesn't mean they don't like us. Heck, it's only business, nothing personal.