- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2001

News of large-scale Russian spy expulsions descended on Washington Wednesday like an unwelcome Cold War reminder.

But the only reason the expulsions were so surprising is that the Clinton administration failed to expose or challenge the Kremlin's increasingly intense intelligence operations. Under Vladimir Putin's stewardship, Russia began dispatching spies to the United States at a Soviet-era pace. Experts maintain that the Kremlin's intelligence presence in the United States has become far larger than Washington's spy apparatus in Russia.

The Washington Times reported in July 1999 that U.S. officials were so concerned about Russian espionage that Amb. James Collins warned the Kremlin to reign in its operation or face expulsions. But unsurprisingly, the Clinton administration failed to back Mr. Collins' message with action.

Reportedly, six of the Russians the White House has asked to leave within 10 days were believed to have been intelligence handlers for Robert Hanssen, a high-ranking FBI agent who was recently accused of spying for the Russians. In total, Washington expelled more than 50 Russian diplomats, but most are not required to leave the country until July 1. Through the expulsions, the Bush administration is demonstrating that it will take the necessary steps to protect the United States, regardless of how Moscow likes it. Interestingly, after Aldrich Ames was caught spying in 1994, the United States timidly expelled just one suspected senior spy, Alexander Iosifovich Lysenko.

One would hope Russia responds to the expulsions in a reasonable manner, so that this unpleasant chapter can be closed. The Bush administration has clearly articulated both its commitment to national security and a reasonable desire to see U.S.-Russian relations improve. "We have important interests in maintaining cooperative and productive relations with Russia," Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters. "And we intend to continue working to advance those issues," he added.

Indeed, Russia's most dire problems are economic, and in this area America could be an invaluable ally. Mr. Putin should make the economic well-being of his countrymen his overriding priority. The money he has devoted to espionage would be much better spent paying what the Kremlin owes to its public employees or aiding widows of the Kursk submarine accident, for example.

It would be absurd and unrealistic to expect the United States and Russia to stop spying on each other. But Mr. Putin's determination to continue running a Soviet-style intelligence operation is archaic, impractical and ungracious.


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