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The atmosphere of intrigue has been as thick as homemade borscht in Tokyo’s diplomatic quarter since police caught a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force officer passing confidential documents to the Russian Embassy naval attache in a posh local restaurant.

Ramifications from the case have already dimmed the luster of the achievements chalked up during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit here Sept. 3 to 5.

The official Moscow reaction was that the incident represented “a setup by parties aiming to slow improved Russo-Japanese ties.”

On Sept. 14, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov urged Japan to tone down public criticism of the case, saying that the two countries should resolve the issue behind closed doors before moving on to repair ties. Ivanov spoke to Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono when they met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Police led Peter Sellers look-alike Russian Embassy Naval Attache Victor Bogatenkov, 44, and Maritime Self-Defense Force Lt. Cmdr. Shigehiro Hagisaki, 38, from a restaurant in the Hamamatsucho district on Sept. 7.

When he was asked, through diplomatic channels, to submit to questioning, Bogatenkov invoked diplomatic immunity and fled Tokyo on Aeroflot’s Sept. 8 flight to Moscow.

Bursting into tears when apprehended, Hagisaki told police that he had betrayed his country, according to one Tokyo daily newspaper.

Japanese authorities said the pair had met at least 10 times and had been seen exchanging envelopes.

Putin visited Pyongyang and Beijing en route to the G8 summit in Okinawa and made a bilateral call on Tokyo later, engaging in a bout of showmanship concerning movement on the outstanding Northern Islands and peace-treaty issues between the two countries.

Putin met South Korean President Kim Dae Jung in New York Sept. 9 and discussed plans for a rail link that would run from the Koreas through Russia to Europe. Putin has also discussed this “Iron Silk Road” linkup with the Trans-Siberian Railway with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, further suggesting that Russia wants to get back into the Far Eastern ballgame.

There has been speculation that some Japanese and Russian factions have not been pleased with the positive overtures made by Putin in East Asia recently. The scenario casting the spy scandal as a setup apparently evolved from this unauthenticated discontent.

The Defense Agency has decided to postpone indefinitely two planned Japan-Russia defense-cooperation events in the wake of the leak of confidential information to Bogatenkov.

The agency has informed the Russian Embassy in Tokyo that it would not be able to host Gen. Yuri Bukreyev, the supreme commander of the Russian Army, who was scheduled to visit Japan later this month.

The agency also put off a visit by 30 middle-ranking officers and bureaucrats to Russia later this month.

However, a high-ranking official said the agency is not considering postponing a visit to Japan by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev scheduled for November.

In a bizarre twist, a son of Bogatenkov will shortly begin working at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, gaining the same diplomatic immunity that allowed his father to return to Moscow and avoid prosecution, officials said.

Sergei Bogatenkov, a Japanese-language specialist who has studied at International Christian University in Tokyo, applied for a diplomatic visa in Moscow Aug. 29, receiving it just hours before his father was caught spying on Japan.

Government officials told a Tokyo newspaper that they see nothing wrong with the younger Bogatenkov coming here.

“Just because the father’s a spy doesn’t mean we should stop the son from coming to the country,” the paper quoted a government spokesman as saying.

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