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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Oh, You Glorious Russian Spies!

Reuters reports: To the clink of champagne glasses and strains of classical music Wednesday, Russia's President Vladimir Putin saluted Russia's resurgent secret services for their role in guarding national interests.

"The personnel of the security services firmly stand guard for Russia's national interests," Putin said in a statement released as he threw a lavish party to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Soviet secret police.

Putin, who served as a KGB spy in East Germany, has promoted former security officers to high posts in the Kremlin, where they have formed one of the most powerful clans under the leadership of deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin, analysts say.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin split up the KGB to sap the power of the secret services. But Putin has brought spying back into fashion at the very highest levels in the Kremlin.

Spy chiefs, top politicians and former agents were shown on state television sitting in a packed hall in the Kremlin as Putin sang their praises.

State television showed a lavish party with an orchestra playing classical music and large buffet with champagne and vodka, said to be Russian spies' favorite tipple.

"Their best workers have always shown patriotism, competency, a high degree of personal and professional decency, and an understanding of the importance of their work for the good of their Fatherland," Putin said.

Spy scares are back in vogue in Moscow with Kremlin-controlled television showing romantic serials about the exploits of Russia's domestic and foreign security agents.

The poisoning death of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in London last month raised accusations among his supporters in the West of Russian secret service involvement. But Moscow has denied any role.

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, both tipped as possible Putin successors, attended the Kremlin reception.

Putin, who has tried to restore prestige to the secret services, saluted the "glorious pages" in the history of Russia's secret services.

"There are many glorious pages, bright examples of true heroism and courage in the history of national state security organizations," Putin said in the statement, which was posted on the Kremlin's Web page,

Historians still argue about how many tens of millions of people died at the hands of the Soviet secret service under the rule of Josef Stalin.

Millions were executed or sent to perish in labor camps run by Stalin's secret police.

Stalin's death in 1953 ended massive purges but left intact a system of blanket control over the population exercised by the secret services. Political dissidents were imprisoned on criminal charges or locked up in mental hospitals.

On December 20, Russian agents traditionally celebrate Chekist day, the date in 1917 that the Soviet secret police, the Cheka, was founded.

It underwent a chain of purges and transformations and was known variously under the initials NKVD, GPU, OGPU, MGB and KGB.

Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) chief Sergei Lebedev, Federal Security Service (FSB) head Nikolai Patrushev and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov attended the Kremlin banquet.

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