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From Russian Spy Arrests to Obama-Medvedev Burger Diplomacy

President Barack Obama and Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev make an unscheduled visit to Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Va., Thursday, June 24, 2010. AP/Charles Dharapak

Last week President Obama and his Russian counterpart President Dmitry Medvedev had burgers at a local diner outside Washington, D.C.. 

The friendly "burger diplomacy" meeting was in sharp contrast to the Cold War summits of the past. The two leaders even shared an order of fries.

Mr. Obama declared that the two had succeeded in resetting the relationship between the countries after years of distrust.

The resetting may have become a bit unsettled as 10 alleged Russian spies were arrested by the FBI in the U.S. after a lengthy investigation.

 The alleged "deep-cover" spies are accused of working for the SVR, the Russian Federation version of the CIA. Mikhail Fradkov, director of the SVR, reports directly to Mr. Medvedev.

The complaint alleges that some of those charged had a long-term goal to become "sufficiently Americanized" in order to gather intelligence in the U.S. and to "recruit sources who are in, or are able to infiltrate, United States policy-making circles."  The complaint says that the "agents" were trained in "foreign languages; agent-to-agent communications, including the use of brush-passes; short-wave radio operation and invisible writing; the use of codes and ciphers, including the use of encrypted Morse code messages; the creation and use of a cover profession; counter-surveillance measures" and more.

As a press conference last week, Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev were chatting out Twitter, and the U.S. president said, "I have one [Twitter account], as well, so we may be able to finally throw away those red phones that have been sitting around for so long." 

Will the Russian spy arrests cause the two relatively new Twitter users to unfollow each other or go back to the red phone? (In reality, the phone wasn't always red, and in the modern age of communications a special phone isn't required). It's doubtful that this incident will mark a return to a Cold War mentality.

What's not clear is how tuned in Mr. Obama was to this investigation and subsequent series of arrests as he was sharing fries with Mr. Medvedev at Ray's Hell Burger. And, when Mr. Obama visits Russia will Mr. Medvedev return the favor by arresting CIA agents operating in his country, if there are any such individuals. 

See also

What is the SVR? 

FBI: Ten Russian Spies Arrested in the U.S.