New dip in rollercoaster ride of US-Russia relations

US diplomat Ryan Fogle detained by the Russian Federal Security Service
Image caption The US diplomat's expulsion comes at a sensitive time in US-Russia relations

The Russian word for a rollercoaster is "Amerikanskye Gorki", or "American Hills". That's quite appropriate. Looking back over the last decade, American-Russian relations have been one long rollercoaster, sweeping from great highs, to deep lows.

Only last week US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Moscow apparently signalling a new era of co-operation between the two countries.

He praised Russia and America's "common strategic interests" and pointed out that "committed partners can find a way to accomplish great things together".

Today a US diplomat was paraded on Russian TV wearing a blond wig and accused of being a CIA spy.

Whatever happened to accomplishing great things together?

The scene quickly grew even more bizarre. Two other wigs from the American's "spy kit" were put on display, then his compass, map and penknife.

The man - identified as Ryan Fogle - was accused by a Russian security official of having committed a crime against the Russian state; he'd allegedly tried to recruit a Russian intelligence officer.

Moscow has accused the United States of "provocative actions in the spirit of the Cold War which do nothing to strengthen mutual trust".

It sounds like the rollercoaster is heading down. But the dip might not be such a long one.

Image caption Russia and America have signalled they favour closer relations on Syria in recent talks

After all, there's nothing new about spy scandals; espionage didn't end when the Cold War did. The Russians and the Americans know full well their countries were, are and will be spying on each other.

True, not every agent who is caught is named, shamed and put on national television with their wig on. That, perhaps, is a reflection of Russian irritation at this particular case.

In a security video shown by Russian TV, an unidentified male voice is heard chiding the detained American: "You know perfectly well that the Russian Federal Security Service has actively been helping to investigate the Boston bombings and providing information on potential threats to the United States."

"In conversations between President Putin and President Obama, an agreement was reached about co-operation between our security services… yet in this atmosphere an American diplomat goes and commits a crime against Russia," he adds.

But the head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee doubts that the spy story will do lasting damage to US-Russian ties.

"The scandal will soon be over," he tweeted. "It won't affect the Lavrov-Kerry talks (on Syria). But it doesn't improve the atmosphere."

This is a sensitive time for the United States and Russia, both currently involved in delicate diplomacy over Syria. It creates an uncomfortable atmosphere. But in recent weeks both countries have appeared to favour a closer relationship, believing they both stand to benefit.

Last month President Obama sent a letter to President Putin about improving ties.

It was delivered to the Kremlin leader by Obama's national security adviser. It will be interesting to see now if he gets a reply.

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