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Intel chief: Russia besieged by foreign spies

Foreign espionage is on the increase in Russia and foreigners are not taking Moscow’s “war on terrorism” seriously, the head of the state security service was quoted as saying Thursday.
/ Source: Reuters

Foreign espionage is on the increase in Russia and foreigners are not taking Moscow’s “war on terrorism” seriously, the head of the FSB state security service was quoted as saying on Thursday.

Nikolai Patrushev’s comments suggesting encirclement by Russia’s enemies coincided with broader moves against foreign organizations in Russia.

Parliament gave outline approval on Wednesday to a bill that will limit the right of non-governmental groups (NGOs) to employ non-Russians or receive foreign funding.

“Espionage activity is not only not weakening, but is increasing,” Patrushev said in an interview published in the official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

The remarks by Patrushev bore overtones of the Soviet era, underscoring the strong grip that the security and military establishment now exerts under President Vladimir Putin.

Patrushev, a close ally of Putin’s, said some 20 foreign agents had been arrested this year, three of them caught red-handed. Another 65 people linked to foreign spies had been stopped from operating he said, without elaborating.

“Despite the fact that security services are concentrating significant efforts on the fight against terrorism, opposing foreign espionage remains one of our main priorities.”

The FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, has previously expressed concern that foreign states are working to undermine Russian influence in the former Soviet Union by organizing democratic revolutions in Ukraine and elsewhere.

On Thursday, Patrushev accused foreign states -- by implication Britain and the United States -- of failing to give Russia the backing it needs in fighting terrorism.

“We are not feeling the international support for our efforts in the war against terrorism that we have been counting on,” he said.

“The practice of double standards in assessing events continues. How else can you explain that fact that the leaders and ideologists of terrorists trying to stimulate anti-Russian sentiments have found asylum in certain countries?”

Two men singled out
He singled out two men living in London exile, Chechen rebel Akhmed Zakayev and Boris Berezovsky, a once-influential businessman who has fiercely attacked Putin for the Chechen war since fleeing Russia.

Chechen leader Ilyas Akhmadov, who has received asylum in the United States, was also seen as a particular threat.

Moscow considers its war to crush separatism in Chechnya to be part of the war on terrorism, and Patrushev said Russia was still under attack from international terrorists who were sending people “educated abroad” and money to infiltrate local Muslim groups.

“The FSB considers it necessary to make credit organizations and their managers more answerable for the financing of terrorist activities and the organized crime which is closely linked to it,” he said, giving no further details.

Under the bill passed in the first reading by the State Duma (lower house) of parliament on Wednesday, charities would be restricted from receiving foreign cash in what has been called a general move to isolate Russians from the influence of the West.

Analysts say the concern was sparked by officials’ fears that Ukraine’s pro-Western “Orange Revolution” could repeat itself in Moscow.