Putin 'sings songs' with deported Russian spies

25th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin revealed he met and even sang patriotic Soviet songs with the group of Russian spies deported from the United States in the biggest espionage swap since the Cold War.

Putin, who himself served as a KGB agent in the ex-East Germany, said the group included the glamorous young spy Anna Chapman, 28, and predicted they would have an "interesting, bright" future.

"I met with them. We talked about life. We sang. It was not karaoke but live music," Putin told Russian reporters on a visit to Ukraine, according to a transcript posted Sunday on the government website.

"We sang 'From Where the Motherland Begins'," a Soviet song made famous in the wildly popular 1968 USSR film "The Sword and the Shield" about a Soviet spy working in Nazi Germany.

"I'm not joking, I'm serious. And other songs with a similar content," said Putin.

The group of 10 spies, many of whom had been working for years undercover in the United States as sleeper agents, returned to Russia earlier this month in a sensational spy swap that saw Moscow send four Russian convicts to the West.

The 10 Kremlin agents had been arrested in an FBI swoop that initially threatened to derail a recent warming in Russia-US relations championed by Putin's successor in the Kremlin, President Dmitry Medvedev.

Putin hinted that the agents' cover had been blown as a result of "treason" and that he knew the names of those responsible.

"This was the result of treason and traitors always end badly. They finish up as drunks, addicts, on the street," said Putin.

Putin added, enigmatically, that "recently one (traitor) for instance ended his existence abroad and it was not clear what the point of it all was."

He did not give further details on the individual.

Former top Russian spy Sergei Tretyakov, who defected to the United States in 2000 and observers speculated could have tipped off the US authorities about the sleeper spy ring, died of a heart attack in June aged 53.

Bizarrely, his death was only announced on July 9, the same day that the spy exchange took place.

Punishment for any traitors would "not be decided in a press conference", Putin said, adding the special services "live according to their rules."

Many ex-KGB spies have gone on the record slamming the shoddy and apparently antiquated spycraft of the 10, who were working for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), a successor of the Soviet KGB.

But Putin said the deported spooks would have a future. "They will work, I am sure, they will work in worthy places. I do not doubt that they will have an interesting, bright life."

He did not give further details on his encounter with Chapman, saying only that she had been present at the meeting. He did not say when or where the meeting had taken place.

Without talking specifically about the work of the deported spies, Putin praised the work of Russian agents abroad, saying they "have a difficult life, every one of them."

"Just imagine. You need to master a language like your mother tongue. You need to think in it, speak in it."

"You need to fulfil the task set in the interests of your motherland for many many years, not counting on diplomatic cover, exposing to danger yourself and your loved ones," said Putin.

According to unconfirmed Russian press reports, the deported spies are being debriefed by the SVR at a secret location in the Moscow region, in a process that may take several weeks.

Putin said it was "not my task" to assess the work of the 10, saying this would be done by "specialists, their chiefs" and the main user of such information would be Medvedev.

Putin served as a KGB agent in the then East German city of Dresden between 1985-1990. In 2005 he famously described the USSR collapse as the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century.

© 2010 AFP

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