'Spy' Case Strains U.S.-Russian Ties

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MOSCOW: Whether or not it turns out that Qualcomm engineer Richard Bliss was a spy — and the CIA swears he isn't — his arrest on espionage charges has put a strain on U.S.-Russian relations at a time when Moscow is desperately seeking U.S. business dollars.

As Bliss found himself formally charged on Friday, the U.S. warned Russia that the move could hamper American investment in Russia’s struggling economy. The 29-year-old engineer was accused of spying on sensitive military installations while helping lay the groundwork for a new cellular phone system in the city of Rostov, using a Global Positioning Satellite.

He was arrested by the Federal Security Service (successors to the KGB) even though his activities had been authorized by a local telephone utility, and the equipment he used was commercially available piece of navigational technology.

Bliss may have been held because Qualcomm failed to pay a bribe. The arrest may also have been a political move by provincial FSB officers wanting to show the West who was boss.

Either way, the case is a boost to those in the State Department who want to reduce Russia’s international role, believing Moscow to be too unstable to be considered a close ally.