U.S. authorities have arrested 10 people on charges of spying on behalf of Russia.
The announcement came just days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to the United States. Images of the Russian leader eating a burger with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama were viewed all over the world as a sign of improved relations between Moscow and Washington.
Some Russian experts have warned that the new witch-hunt would jeopardize the reset in Russian-U.S. ties.
Russia wants explanation
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Russia wanted an explanation from the United States over the arrest of the Russian "spies."
"They have not explained to us what is going on. I hope they will," Lavrov told journalists following talks with his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem, adding "the only thing I can say is that the timing [of the announcement], was chosen with a particular care."
The U.S. Department of Justice said on Monday that 11 people had been charged as "unlawful agents of the Russian Federation within the United States." Ten of them were arrested on Sunday and the other one remains at large, the department said in a statement.
The U.S. authorities said the case was "the result of a multi-year investigation conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, and the Counterespionage Section and the Office of Intelligence within the Justice Department's National Security Division."
According to the complaint filed in the court by U.S. intelligence, some of the suspects had been under surveillance since January and part of their correspondence with Moscow had been intercepted and decoded.
"You were sent to USA for long-term service trip. Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc - all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission - to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in the U.S. and send intels," one of the intercepted messages allegedly said.
The U.S. media has said it is unclear from the report what information was transmitted by those charged and whether their activities jeopardized U.S. security.
Cold War-era 'spy games'
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed on Tuesday its regret over the scandal.
"We do not understand why the U.S. Department of Justice issued a public statement inspired by Cold War-era 'spy games.' We would like to mention that such incidents have taken place more than once before, when our relations [with the United States] were improving," the ministry said in a statement.
A number of top Russian officials have described the move as an attempt to undermine trust in relations between Russia and the United States.
Deputy Head of the Russian Parliamentary Security Committee Nikolai Kolesnikov said the scandal was orchestrated by people whose attitude to Russia was still based on Cold War-era stereotypes.
Many people involved in U.S. politics view the recent warm spell in relations between the two countries as "inappropriate," he said.
The lawmaker expressed hope that Obama would "have enough wisdom to properly evaluate situation."
"First and foremost, this is a blow to president Obama himself," he said.
First Deputy Speaker of the Russian upper house of parliament Alexander Torshin called on the media not to over-hype the situation.
"This is not a return to the Cold War, and I am sure this incident will not turn into a large-scale spy scandal," he said.
The recent decision by the United States to put Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov on their international terrorist list is a "serious sign" that relations between Moscow and Washington had reached an "unprecedentedly high level," he said.
Three separate court hearings over the spy scandal were held in New York, Alexandria (Virginia) and Boston (Massachusetts) on Monday. Bloomberg said the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York had refused to release on bail five of the detainees. The results of the two other cases were not reported.
According to U.S. law, those found guilty of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. Attorney General face a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Those found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering face 20 years.
The evidence submitted by the FBI to the court indicates that some of the suspects were in contact with Russian "state officials," including diplomats from Russia's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York from 2004 to the beginning of 2010.
JERUSALEM, June 29 (RIA Novosti)