Sunday, March 10, 2019

Another Danger Sign: Moscow Says the Number of Spies in Russia Comparable to Number in the USSR in 1941

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 10 – Vladimir Putin announced last week that Russia’s security services had uncovered 594 spies during the course of 2018, “a colossal figures comparable to the number sent into the USSR by the Germans” in the spring of 1991, according to Igor Atamanenko, a veteran of Russia’s counter-espionage services (

            Andrey Vedayev, a historian of the Russian and Soviet intelligence services, adds that the number Putin mentioned is far greater than at any time during the Cold War. “Counter-intelligence in our country,” he adds, “always was very powerful.” The large number of spies caught highlights the multitude of threats facing Russia.

            Talking about the number of spies one has caught is always a two-edged sword for governments. On the one hand, it highlights the vigilance of the government; but on the other, it shows that foreign regimes are ready and even able to penetrate these defenses at least for a time. Only if one wants to whip up a kind of war psychosis are such numbers an unqualified good.

            In reporting about this, Leonid Fedorov, a journalist for the news agency, also addresses the issues of what foreign spies are looking for at present, what are the regions in which they are most frequently found, how they are identified, and what is done with them after they are caught.

            Regarding what the spies are looking for, Viktor Baranets, a military observer for Komsomolskaya pravda, says, that foreignspies in Russia at the present time are looking above all for compromat on key members of the elite, then economic problems, and only in the third place, military issues. 

            As to where they are to be found, Atamanenko says that they are found most often in the north-west portion of the country, in areas bordering Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, while Baranets says they are also numerous in the non-Russian republics where the spies want to know how non-Russians will react to any Moscow decision.

            Concerning how spies are caught, Vedyayev reminds that this is “a state secret,” something no one is supposed to talk about in public because such talk would help foreign spies avoid detection.  And as to what happens to spies after they are caught, the answer is simple: they get serious prison terms or, if they are foreigners, eventually exchanged. 

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