MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian state television accused the United States on Friday of using its only remaining air base in Central Asia as cover for a large-scale spying operation.
Rossiya television released a clip of a documentary to be aired on Sunday which it said shows how the United States ran intelligence operations from the Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan, used for supplying foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Kyrgyzstan told Washington in February to close the air base after it secured a $2 billion economic aid package from Russia, a setback for the United States as it seeks new supply routes.
“Eight years ago under the pretext of the war in Afghanistan the United States opened its air base at the Manas airport,” a Rossiya statement said.
“But this was only the start. Subsequently the Americans in Kyrgyzstan launched a wide-scale intelligence operation.”
State television is seen as a mouthpiece for the Russian authorities. But airing the film days after President Dmitry Medvedev’s first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama is likely to raise speculation of tensions within Russia’s elite.
A U.S. defense official dismissed the allegations as ridiculous and noted that the TV report surfaced just as U.S. and Kyrgyz officials resumed dialogue over the base’s future.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said U.S. and Kyrgyz representatives resumed talks this week. He gave no details.
U.S. officials have said they hope to keep the base at Manas but Bishkek says the base must close and that the decision of its president to close the U.S. outpost is final.
The documentary was made by Russian journalist Arkady Mamontov, who in 2006 provoked a spat between London and Moscow by airing a film showing pictures of what he said were British spies using a fake rock to gather secrets electronically.
The three-minute clip on Manas to be shown this Sunday, accused the United States of running spying operations in the Kyrgyz capital.
The camera focuses in on a windowless two-storey building at the Manas base which the reporter says is the hub of a major U.S. radio intelligence unit.
The film then switches to grainy pictures of a woman identified as a CIA agent working under diplomatic cover as first political secretary of the U.S. embassy in Bishkek. No one with the name given was listed on the embassy’s website.
In a scene reminiscent of a John le Carre novel, the film claims to show how U.S. agents used chalk marks on walls to set up secret meetings. The woman said to be a CIA agent is then shown in a shawl, disguised as an old woman.
The clip says the United States created a special team of spies in Bishkek to follow local politicians and keep Kyrgyz counter-intelligence off the scent of the CIA agents.
“It should be noted that all this was done on the territory of a sovereign state, Kyrgyzstan, and with disregard for all the norms of international law,” the film said.
Mamontov declined to comment on the film late on Friday. A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Moscow could not be reached for comment.
Editing by Tim Pearce