In his annual speech to officers of Russia’s FSB security agency, President Vladimir Putin commended the service for thwarting almost 600 foreign attempts to spy on Russia, painting a picture of a world obsessed with stealing Russia’s amazing military technology.
In his televised speech on Wednesday, Putin claimed “129 staff members and 465 agents of foreign special services were foiled,” without naming any of them or providing any details about the cases.
“We see foreign intelligence agencies trying to increase their activity towards Russia, seeking by all means to access political, economic, scientific and technological information,” he claimed.
The BBC was deeply skeptical of Putin’s assertions, noting there is no way to verify the numbers; Putin is eager to nourish nationalism, paranoia, and approval for his government; and the Kremlin wants to change the subject from Western accusations of Russian espionage, especially the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom.
The BBC offered a few other examples of spying that Russia would prefer not to discuss:
The head of the British army, Gen Mark Carleton-Smith, said last year that Russia was seeking to “exploit vulnerability and weakness wherever they detect it.”
Several intelligence agencies have acted against alleged Russian spy networks.
In December, the Czech Republic said it had broken up a group that used the Russian embassy as cover.
Dutch security services said two months earlier that they had foiled a plot to hack the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW.
Another angle for Putin is relentlessly touting Russia’s new missile technology, which he claims is capable of sending warheads toward the United States and Europe at hypersonic speeds that would make the weapons difficult to detect and impossible to intercept. It serves Putin’s propaganda interests to conjure images of foreign spies desperately shoving their hands into Moscow’s high-tech cookie jar.
Putin’s address to the FSB included a call for stronger “protection of information related to new weapons and other sensitive data,” as Radio Free Europe put it. Putin also made a point of mentioning U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which Washington accused Moscow of repeatedly violating.