MOSCOW - Russia's capture of a purported U.S. spy made the news for a second day here Wednesday, as the Foreign Ministry handed the U.S. ambassador a formal protest over the affair but otherwise appeared to want to let the matter rest.
The sighting of the ambassador, Michael McFaul, fleeting as it was, provided an opportunity for Russian television to dwell at length on images of unkempt wigs, wads of euros (not dollars) and a compass that officials said they found in the accused spy's bag of subterfuge.
The coverage, as well as handouts of photos and information by the normally publicity-averse domestic Russian security service, set off speculation that the affair was a calculated attempt to cast Americans as meddling and treacherous. Over the last 18 months, President Vladimir V. Putin has accused the United States of financing both his opponents and nongovernmental organizations that act in the interest of foreigners.
McFaul smiled but said nothing Wednesday as he walked from his official black Cadillac into the Foreign Ministry, a 27-story Stalin-era skyscraper decorated with the hammer and sickle. He and other U.S. officials have been tight-lipped when asked whether Ryan Fogle, the alleged spy, was using his job as third political secretary at the U.S. Embassy as cover for his real work as a CIA officer.
The ambassador was at the ministry for about half an hour. After he left, the ministry issued a statement saying that Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov had given McFaul a note of protest and that other topics were discussed, as well.
Despite the lurid coverage at home, Russia appeared little inclined to use the incident to damage the broader relationship with the United States. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, at a meeting of the Arctic Council in Sweden, said he had not brought the matter up with Secretary of State John Kerry, who is also attending the meeting.
"Kerry did not raise it," Lavrov said, according to the Interfax news agency. "I also decided that probably it would be redundant to discuss it. Everything is public. I think everybody understands everything."