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Moscow has its own complaints about spies - American spies

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during his news conference in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017.

IVAN SEKRETAREV/AP

By ANDREW ROTH | The Washington Post | Published: January 17, 2017

MOSCOW — U.S. spies under diplomatic cover sneaking along Russia's borders with Europe. Ten thousand dollars and a recruitment letter shoved into a Russian diplomat's car.

Those are just some of the sensational allegations that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov leveled against the United States on Tuesday as he laid out Moscow's case against Washington in the hidden intelligence war. Many of the alleged incidents were previously undisclosed. In Washington, the State Department had no immediate response to Lavrov's comments.

For months, Russian officials have seethed at accusations that they hacked the U.S. elections and were harassing U.S. diplomats in Russia. In a nationally televised press conference, Lavrov fired back, complaining that U.S. embassy employees in Moscow were disguising themselves to join in Russian opposition protests and that Russian diplomats in the United States were increasingly being targeted for recruitment.

"In the last several years, especially during the Obama administration's term, unfriendly [recruitment attempts] toward our diplomats has grown," Lavrov said in response to a question about harassment of diplomats during his annual press conference.

Washington has repeatedly complained about the treatment of its diplomats in Russia. A brawl between an embassy employee and a Russian guard caught on tape last year caused a major diplomatic scandal. U.S. officials claimed the attack was an unprovoked assault while Russia said the man was a CIA officer attempting to sneak into the embassy.

Lavrov on Tuesday said the Russian guard had acted correctly because the man had not provided identification and was wearing a disguise. In another case, he claimed, a male U.S. diplomat had disguised himself as a woman before changing outfits in a public toilet.

He also implied that U.S. military officials were conducting undercover reconnaissance, saying that U.S. military attaches "love to travel across our motherland in rented cars," naming a number of regions on the border with NATO, Ukraine, and the Caucasus region. "Accordingly, they don't bear diplomatic licence plates, but Russian plates, meaning there is less chance of being noticed."

U.S. officials have also complained about harassment and surveillance by Russian intelligence in cities across Europe, which reportedly grew worse following the 2014 annexation of Crimea. In Moscow, one military attache's dog was killed, according to multiple former officials citing intelligence reports, and embassy employees also complained about slashed tires and their children being followed to school.

There have also been complaints that Russian officials have been encouraged not to meet with the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Lavrov brushed these off, saying that the Russian Foreign Ministry had compiled statistics showed that "Russian ministries, agencies, and members of parliament host the U.S. ambassador tens of times more often, than Americans host the ambassador of the Russian Federation."

He then launched into a wide-ranging account of Moscow's complaints about harassment of its diplomats Washington: from the arrest of Russian military attaches working in the United States to recruitment attempts.

One of the cases was previously reported by the ministry's spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova: That U.S. agents had approached a Russian diplomat attempting to buy medicine from a doctor for Yevgeny Primakov, a former Russian Foreign Minister who died last year, and sought to recruit him.

"To recruit in this kind of situation, one must have a special professional audacity and a deep feeling of cynicism," Lavrov said.

There were others, he added.

"In April last year, there was an unprecedented [recruiting] attempt on the level of the second [highest-ranking] person in our embassy," Lavrov said. "The American intelligence agencies made an attempt at recruitment, literally stuck $10,000 in his car while he wasn't there with a proposal of cooperation."

The money was turned in, he said, adding that the money "is now working for the betterment of the Russian government."

In what he called a "disgusting episode," Lavrov claimed that two employees of the Russian military attache in Washington were detained while having lunch with their spouses, interrogated, and denied contact with the Russian embassy. When the officials were freed, he said, "there was not even an apology."

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