KGB moles high in the Central Intelligence Agency. Russian paratroopers deploying in Sarajevo to the cheers of Serbs. President Boris Yeltsin promising a new, more assertive foreign policy to defend Russian national interests.
In the heated rhetoric of congressmen and pundits in Washington, all this adds up to a picture of the Russian bear on the prowl again. But to Russia's politicians and commentators, all this is evidence that the American eagle is again aloft, eager to keep its domination as the world's sole superpower.
``Our diplomatic success in Bosnia seems to have given the Americans a slap in the face,'' commented Alexander Vasilyev in the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda last week. ``That accounts for the timing of the Ames [spy] case. Now Washington needs to snub Moscow, to remind us who is the master on this planet.''
This view can be found in the pages of every Russian paper or on television, and repeated to Westerners in casual conversation. It is universally believed here that the disclosure of the alleged Russian mole, Aldrich Ames, was a response to Washington's discomfort over Russia's successful and more-assertive diplomacy in the Bosnian crisis.
``Despite the touching handshakes and declarations of mutual love, it is evident that America doesn't need a strong and independent Russia,'' wrote Aleksei Novikov in Novaya Yezhednevnaya Gazeta on Feb. 25.
An even more harsh view is that American hawks have merely seized upon events in order to restart the cold war for their own ends. ``Apparently there are certain circles in American society that can be labeled `hawks,' '' wrote Vladimir Kuznechevsky in the daily Rossiskaya Gazeta last week, ``that were only seeking the appropriate pretext to hype this case.''
A longer analysis in the influential liberal newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta on Feb. 25 depicted Russia as facing a ``new containment'' policy by the United States. ``Russia's immediate task is to avoid a possible scenario of the ``new cold war'' that is being elaborated by the inexhaustible Washington strategists,'' the paper editorialized.
When it comes to the spy case itself, Russian opinion is totally at odds with Washington's apparent insistence that some great betrayal of the post-Soviet ``partnership'' has occurred. Russian officials and media point out that neither side has shown any sign of giving up intelligence activities.
THE US decision to oust Russian intelligence official Alexander Lysenko from Washington in retaliation for the Ames affair has been met with the expulsion of an American diplomat from Moscow. The diplomat, identified by Russian media as James Morris, is alleged to be a CIA official. Mr. Lysenko, Foreign Intelligence Service spokesman Yuri Kobladze points out, was an open representative of the service, carrying out new liaison activities with the CIA.
As for Mr. Ames, the veteran CIA counterintelligence officer was actually recruited in pre-perestroika Soviet times, in 1985, and was inherited by the Russian version of the KGB's foreign intelligence wing after the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. ``It would be extremely stupid to reject the services of such a valuable agent,'' Ravil Mustafin wrote in the Army daily Red Star on Feb. 26. ``I am sure that had the Americans been in our shoes, they would have done the same thing.''
This series of mirror images being touted in Washington and Moscow are reminiscent in many ways of cold-war days, when suspicion of each side's motives was the rule, not the exception. Russian-US relations are burdened with this history, points out a Western diplomat here. ``In that sense,'' he says, ``I'm not surprised at what we've seen, a good deal of which is the product of misinterpretation and miscue rather than serious differences.''
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, both countries have held similar aims to bring about a peaceful negotiation of the conflict, to avoid a use of force. But both are also burdened by a domestic political context, in the Russian case a public opinion and parliament that is pro-Serbian and strongly against NATO military intervention.
NATO's Feb. 10 decision to threaten to launch airstrikes ``put them in a position to have a hard road to hoe on [the domestic] side or alternately to have the Western partnership under pressure,'' the Western diplomat explains. ``So what they did was they chose the most logical and effective road out of it - they got the Bosnian Serbs to withdraw.''
But the downing of Serbian jets yesterday by NATO fighters and the signs of renewed fighting around Sarajevo are likely to once again pose a similar tough choice to Moscow. This time an elegant exit may be much harder to find.