MOSCOW, April 29 -- Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service said Friday it believed the life sentence handed out to confessed spy Aldrich Ames was too severe and inappropriate considering the post-Cold War thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington.
'We believe that after the end of the Cold War and what with the general warming of the world political climate, the sentence (Ames received) is too harsh,' said Tatyana Samolis, spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, the successor to the KGB spy agency that initially employed the former CIA official.
She said that if the roles had been reversed and Moscow had uncovered a Russian spy working for the CIA, it was unlikely that the toughest available sanction would have been applied. 'Our values have changed,' she said. Spying is punishable by the death penalty in Russia.
Ames, 52 and a 31-year veteran of the CIA, pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of spying for Moscow from May 1985 until his arrest Feb. 21 this year. He was sentenced to life in prison with no parole. His wife Maria Rosario Ames, 42, pleaded guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage and will be sentenced in August.
Ames also pleaded guilty to charges of tax fraud regarding the $2.5 million he was estimated to have received for his spying activities.
The information he handed to the Russians is thought to have led to the execution of up to 10 Russian spies working for the United States.
Samolis said that most of her colleagues in the Foreign Intelligence Service considered the fuss over the 'biggest spy case in the history of the United States' as hypocritical in light of Washington's ongoing spying activities in Russia.
Her remarks came after President Boris Yeltsin told officers of the Russian intelligence services Wednesday that the 'true reasons for this anti-Russian (Ames) affair are purely political.'
He was apparently referring to the way outraged lawmakers in Washington, fearing Moscow had returned to its old Cold War ways, had forced President Bill Clinton to take a hard line over the spy scandal.
Yeltsin also said the United States itself was 'mounting efforts to recruit spies in Russia,' a remark Samolis attributed Friday to 'facts obtained by our counterintelligence services.'
Despite the supposed thaw in relations, both Russia and the United States maintain complex spy networks in each other's countries, and the Ames scandal has served to highlight the lingering sensitivity to the issue in both camps.