Russian spies did not cause US 'any harm': Putin
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin insisted Wednesday that 10 spies expelled from the United States earlier this year "didn't cause any harm" to US interests.
The sleeper agents, many of whom had been working for years undercover in the United States, returned to Russia in July in a sensational spy swap that saw Moscow send four Russian convicts to the West.
The group, however "didn't cause any harm to the interests of the United States of America," Putin told CNN in an interview on "Larry King Live."
The ten belonged to a "clandestine service with their own tests to tackle. These tests, as a rule, become pertinent in the crisis periods, like when the diplomatic relations would have been suspended or cut," Putin said of the spies' mission.
"Thank God such a status of affairs we have not witnessed in the relations between Russia and the US today. And I hope it will never occur in our relations in the future," Putin added, speaking through a translator.
Many countries, noted Putin, a former KGB agent himself, are engaged in intelligence gathering.
"Neither these agents, or others, were seen as organizing clandestine prisons or hostage taking or torturing people," Putin pointed out.
Since their return to Moscow, the spies have reportedly undergone a lengthy debriefing by their Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) employers and have also been given awards by President Dmitry Medvedev.
© 2010 AFP