Two days after a Canadian intelligence officer pleaded guilty to spying for Russia, the Russian ambassador has dismissed the case as unimportant and unlikely to affect Canada-Russia relations.
"What you are talking about is very marginal," Ambassador Georgiy Mamedov told a questioner at an event at the Albany Club in downtown Toronto. "It will die away."
Mr. Mamedov, who is the dean of the Ottawa diplomatic corps, used all of his veteran skills to deflect attention from the case of Sub-Lieutenant Jeffrey Delisle, who first walked into the Russian embassy in 2007 and offered to sell Canada's secrets. SLt. Delisle worked four-and-a-half years for the Russians, earning $3,000 a month for his services and eventually securing a post at the top-secret Trinity naval intelligence gathering centre in Halifax, where he had access to the secrets of both Canada and its allies.
While the case has caused an uproar in this country, Ambassador Mamedov told his audience that Russian intelligence-gatherers may not be terribly interested in what Canada, at least, has to offer.
"With all due respect," he said, "it is not, believe me, at the heart of our security concerns."
Asked repeatedly about the spying scandal, the ambassador joked, stonewalled and belittled the importance of the case in a post-cold-war world.
"Chiefs of your former counter-intelligence are good friends of mine," he said. " I have lunch with them regularly. So understand that we understand what the real threats are about, terrorism and other things."
He denied that this week's revelations about his embassy's connection with SLt. Delisle hurt the two countries' relationship. Asked if he cared to expand on that judgment, he said, "No, you'll just have to take my word for it."
When asked why Russia spied on Canada, a country with which it is seeking closer ties, Ambassador Mamedov parried with a question of his own: "Why does Canada spy on Russia?" He said it was important to get past this mentality of mutual suspicion.
"We are still living in the aftermath of the cold war. And to change this psychology is difficult."