Citing a lack of evidence, Russia's foreign ministry on Tuesday condemned the arrest of a Russian man accused of involvement in a New York City spy ring on behalf of the Moscow regime.
The FBI announced Monday that it had arrested Evgeny Buryakov, 39, in the Bronx, and said that he and two co-conspirators, Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy, would be charged in connection with an intelligence-gathering ring.
The complaint, unsealed in federal court in Manhattan on Monday, alleges that the three Russians worked as agents of the country's foreign intelligence agency to gather information and recruit U.S. residents as sources for Moscow.
Foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich condemned the arrest and said no proof has been presented to back up allegations of espionage, in televised remarks Tuesday. He added that Russian-U.S. relations have already been on shaky terms.
"It seems as though the U.S. authorities are once again resorting to their favorite tactics of building up spy hysteria," Lukashevich said. "Russia insists on the cessation of provocations unleashed by U.S. intelligence services against Russian citizens." Lukashevich asked for consular access to Buryakov, as well as his release.
Buryakov appeared in court on Monday and was ordered held without bail, the Associated Press reported. Sporyshev, 40, and Podobnyy, 27, are no longer in the U.S.
"These charges demonstrate our firm commitment to combating attempts by covert agents to illegally gather intelligence and recruit spies within the United States," Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement Monday.
The complaint, filed last week, alleges Sporyshev, Podobnyy and Buryakov had been meeting and plotting their work as clandestine agents for at least two years. Among other things, the spy ring was gathering intelligence on potential U.S. sanctions against Russian banks, as well as the nation's efforts to develop alternative energy resources, according to the criminal complaint.
Sporyshev was working as a trade representative for the Russian government in New York and Podobnyy was working as a permanent attache to the Russian Federation at the United Nations, according to the complaint. Buryakov was working as a deputy representative of Vnesheconombank, a Russian bank in Manhattan, Lukashevich said.
According to the complaint, the FBI conducted surveillance of Buryakov and Sporyshev meeting more than four dozen times. The two would typically meet outside, after a short phone call during which they'd mention exchanging an item, like a book, an umbrella or a hat, it said.
At the meeting, the complaint said, they would sometimes exchange documents or other small items. The transfers contained intelligence gathered on behalf of the SVR, the Russian foreign intelligence agency, the complaint alleges.
In recorded communications, Sporyshev and Podobnyy discussed their work, sometimes appearing disillusioned by it, the complaint said. According to the document, Podobnyy once said his work was "not even close" to the James Bond movies he'd seen.
"Of course, I wouldn't fly helicopters, but pretend to be someone else at a minimum," he said, according to the complaint. Sporyshev agreed and said he believed that he would at least go abroad with a different passport, it said.
The complaint also alleges that Podobnyy and Sporyshev discussed attempts to recruit U.S. residents, including people employed by major companies and several young women with ties to an unnamed New York university.
Podobnyy said his recruitment tactics included cheating and empty promises, the complaint said.
"You promise a favor for a favor," he said. "You get the documents from him and tell him to go ... himself."