Medvedev warns Russian spies on rare HQ visit
President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday warned Russia's spies over the risk of secrets being exposed by a WikiLeaks-style scandal as he paid a rare visit to the headquarters of foreign intelligence.
Medvedev attended a ceremony at the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) headquarters at Yasenevo outside the Russian capital to mark the 90th anniversary of the foundation of Moscow's external espionage operation.
The SVR, which was created out of the Soviet KGB, has already seen its jubilee year marred by an embarrassing US spy scandal earlier this year that raised questions over its effectiveness in the post-Cold War world.
Medvedev, shown on state television speaking against a background of dark curtains with the faces of his audience not shown, acknowledged that 2010 had "not been simple" for the Service.
"But nevertheless, I think that our Service has all the possibilities to solve problems effectively," he told the audience at the gigantic Yasenevo headquarters, the present-day "Moscow Centre" of spy novels.
Medvedev said the exposure of secrets, like the US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks, was in some ways good as it gave the intelligence service "additional analytical possibilities".
"But this also creates problems as clearly no-one is insured against such problems today and this needs to be taken account of in current work," he said in the address, excerpts of which were broadcast on state television.
Leaked US diplomatic cables have called Russia a "mafia state" and described Medvedev as playing the role of Robin to the Batman of powerful premier Vladimir Putin.
But Russian officials have insisted they do not expect ties to be harmed by the disclosures.
The SVR proudly traces its history back to the establishment of the Foreign Department (INO) of the early Soviet intelligence agency, the NKVD, on December 20, 1920.
The Service then became known as the First Main Directorate of the State Security Committee (PGU KGB), a name it retained almost right up to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
"90 years INO, PGU, SVR," proudly declaimed a gigantic Soviet-style sign hanging behind Medvedev.
It was not clear if some of the Service's most celebrated spies currently resident in Moscow -- including the sexy Anna Chapman, 28, or British double agent George Blake, 88 -- were present at the meeting.
Medvedev said it was the duty of the state to ensure that every SVR employee could lead a decent life -- including pay -- and would be protected if they ran into trouble during their work.
The Service's head, Mikhail Fradkov, told the ceremony that SVR spies were "spread all over the world" and every one of its employees stood ready to carry out a "heroic deed" at any time.
Its birthday was shadowed by the disclosure and expulsion by the United States this summer of 10 "sleeper" spies whose spycraft was dismissed as shoddy and archaic by former intelligence professionals.
In another potential exposure of an important agent, Britain has said it wants to deport on suspicion of espionage a 25-year-old Russian woman named Katia Zatuliveter, who was working for a British lawmaker.
A foreign ministry source told Interfax Wednesday that what "could have been just a 'storm in a tea cup'" had been turned into a shambles "by an outburst of paranoid spymania" in London.
"What has happened to the Russian girl can be seen simply as a theatre of the absurd," the foreign ministry official seethed.
© 2010 AFP