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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 21:23 GMT
US and Russia clash over expulsions
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russia says expulsions were not justified
Russia and the United States are engaged in a war of words over Washington's move to expel up to 50 Russian diplomats.

The White House has confirmed that the decision was linked to the recent arrest of an FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, who is accused of spying for Moscow.

This is a fallback to the Cold War era

Sergei Prikhodko
Russian presidential aide
"Concerns have been raised for many years about the level and the presence of intelligence officers in this country," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said in Washington.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on American television that his government intended to match the US expulsions by ordering out the same number of American diplomats from Russia.

Mr Ivanov said he was acting with regret but that the American decision had left him with no choice.

None of the expulsions by Washington were justified, he said.

The decision follows a day of mounting anger in Russia, particularly in parliament.

American spy Robert Hanssen
Robert Hanssen: Accused of spying for the Russians since 1985
The BBC Moscow correspondent says most appear to take the view that the expulsions were politically motivated and intended to punish Russia for its increasingly independent foreign policy.

President George W Bush, in his first comment on the affair, told reporters: "We made the right decision".

But he said he was confident the United States could have good relations with the Russian people, adding: "We've got some areas where we can work together".

Spying 'will not be tolerated'

Full details of the expulsions have still to be announced, but it is known that six Russians were expelled immediately after being declared personae non grata, and that up to 50 others are being asked to leave.

Mr Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said Washington wanted normal relations with Moscow, but large-scale intelligence activity would not be tolerated.

Former FBI counter-intelligence agent Robert Hanssen was arrested last month after allegedly passing highly-sensitive information to Moscow for years.

The Russian handlers of Mr Hanssen are believed to be among the diplomats expelled.

A BBC correspondent in Washington says there are an estimated 450 Russian diplomats in the US who are suspected of carrying out spying duties.

Our correspondent adds that the US Government may be using the arrest of Mr Hanssen as an excuse to reduce this number.

'Spy mania'

A senior foreign affairs aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed regret over the expulsions.

Spying scandals
Dec 2000: Russia jails retired US intelligence officer Edmond Pope for 20 years
Dec 1999: US expels Russian diplomat accused of planting a listening device
1994: Former CIA agent Aldrich Ames given life sentence for spying for Russia for six years
1986: US expels 80 Russian diplomats from Washington and San Francisco
Sergei Prikhodko told the Russian Itar-Tass news agency: "Any campaign of spy mania and searching for enemies brings deep regret... this is a fallback to the Cold War era."

Even before the expulsions, relations between the two countries had been growing increasingly strained.

The US has accused Moscow of transferring new technology to hostile states, while Moscow has condemned Washington over its plans to build a national missile defence shield.

A planned meeting between a senior US officials and Chechen separatists has also been fiercely criticised by Moscow.

Frank Cilluffo, National Security Analyst
"The tit for tat retaliation is the norm in the espionage world"
The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Moscow
"It was inevitable the Russians would have to react"
See also:

21 Mar 01 | Americas
20 Feb 01 | Americas
22 Mar 01 | Americas
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05 Mar 01 | Americas
05 Mar 01 | Europe
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