By Mick Krever, CNN
It’s a Cold-War story with a touch of Monty Python.
An American man, wearing a blond wig and sunglasses, was detained by the Russian security service on Tuesday and accused of being a spy.
Among his possessions was a piece of paper – an open letter allegedly intended for a member of Russian intelligence – pledging $100,000 for “experience, expertise and cooperation.”
How should they get in touch? “A new Gmail account.”
It all seems a bit unbelievable; but a consummate Russian insider, Alexei Pushkov, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday that the story is self evident.
“The American embassy did not protest, it did not deny anything, and we did not hear any denial from the State Department neither,” he told her. “An American spy who was working under the cover of a diplomat was caught red-handed.”
Pushkov, who serves as the head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s parliament, seemed to take a jab at the Americans on Twitter earlier on Wednesday.
“Hollywood has accustomed us to the elusive and invincible American spies,” he wrote. “It’s all different in real life. Two wigs, sunglasses, and a pale appearance.”
Some American intelligence veterans said the whole affair, which included parading silent American diplomats before a camera as they were scolded by Russian officials, smelled of a set-up: Making the alleged spy look intentionally amateurish to embarrass the United States.
To Pushkov, anyone who doubts extensive spying by the United States in Russia is patently naïve.
“It has always been the case,” he said, “and I don’t think anything has changed.”
Indeed, when it comes to many world affairs, it seems that little has changed between the two powers since the end of the Cold War more than two decades ago.
As war rages in Syria, the Russo-American disagreement over how to handle the crisis has been a major impediment to a resolution.
On a recent trip to Moscow, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that peace talks between the Assad regime and the Syria opposition would be held in June.
Many, unsurprisingly, remain doubtful.
“Syria is moving – well, potentially, eventually – may move to the realm of a positive dynamic,” Pushkov said. “Everything will depend on the peace conference.”
Russia will prod Assad to send representatives to the conference, Pushkov said – something the Syrian leader has reportedly agreed to. But it is up to the Americans, he contended, to ensure the opposition takes part.
If Russia is committed to peace, Amanpour asked, then why is it shipping surface-to-air missiles to the Syria regime?
“I think that the whole issue is becoming extremely complicated, and Syria has been asking from Russia to give it the possibility to defend it from air strikes,” Pushkov said. “We know also that air strikes were something that NATO used against Libya, and Russia does not support this kind of interference.”
In other words – do not even think about trying to establish a no-fly zone over Syria.
“We are against no-fly zones because they become the first step to an air campaign,” Pushkov said. “I think [sending the missiles] is a message … we do not support any foreign interference in Syrian affairs.”