Russia and the United States sought Wednesday to cool a heated scandal sparked by the arrest of 11 suspected Kremlin spies, amid fears the Cold War-style furore could harm improving ties.

A cautious White House made no move to condemn Russia after the arrests, prompting the Russian foreign ministry to say it expected the scandal would not hurt relations that have seen a significant revival over the last months.

The US Justice Department said Monday that 10 “deep-cover” suspects, accused of infiltrating US policymaking for the Kremlin, had been detained on suspicion of seeking details of US nuclear weapons and foreign policy.

Police in Cyprus arrested an 11th suspect, 54-year-old Christopher Metsos, who was picked up trying to board a flight on Tuesday to Budapest after immigration officers discovered his name on a stop list.

The intriguing nature of the case, in particular the emergence of Russian suspect Anna Chapman, 28 — described as a flame-haired femme fatale in the tabloids — has drawn comparisons to the heyday of Cold War espionage.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was repeatedly offered the chance in his daily briefing to condemn Russia over the alleged spies, but described the operation as solely a “law enforcement” matter.

“I do not believe this will affect the reset of our relationship with Russia,” Gibbs said.

The State Department meanwhile styled the episode as a remnant of the Cold War covert intelligence struggle between spymasters in Moscow and Washington that would not have a lasting impact on ties.

“We’re moving towards a more trusting relationship. We’re beyond the Cold War; our relations absolutely demonstrate that,” said Phil Gordon, assistant secretary of state for European Affairs.

The muted official US reaction appeared to please Russia, which had angrily demanded explanations from Washington, with the foreign ministry saying it expected the scandal “will not negatively affect ties”.

Source: Stuart Williams for AFP.

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