Moscow — President Vladimir Putin has boasted that Russia thwarted more than 400 foreign spies in 2017 and has called on the country’s intelligence agency to act to block further foreign attempts to obtain political, economic and military information.
Putin, who polls show should be comfortably re-elected on March 18, made the comments in a speech to employees of the FSB intelligence agency in Moscow, where he spoke of the need to step up Russia’s cyber defences and strengthen the security of confidential communications systems used by Russian officials.
Putin once ran the FSB himself and his comments played into one of his core narratives — depicting Russia as a fortress besieged by hostile foreign powers and with him as its defender-in-chief.
"In recent years, as you know very well, there has been an increase in foreign intelligence agency activity," he said.
"They are working diligently on Russia, using the most modern methods, spy craft and technical espionage means.
"During the course of last year alone, the activities of 72 career intelligence officers and 397 agents of foreign spy services were thwarted," Putin said.
Earlier on Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow had evidence that the US was trying to interfere in Russia’s presidential election, but did not say what that evidence was.
US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of hacking and meddling in the 2016 presidential election, while European politicians have accused it of trying to interfere in several elections. Russia denies those allegations.
Putin last week announced an array of new nuclear weapons, in one of his most bellicose speeches in years, saying they could hit almost any point in the world and evade a US-built missile shield.
On Monday, he thanked the FSB for what he said was its successful counterintelligence work in keeping the arms projects secret.
Putin said that the threat of terrorism meant that Russia had to remain open to cooperation with foreign spy agencies, however, even with those from countries with whom Moscow had disagreements.
He said Russia had prevented 25 acts of terrorism last year and 68 terrorist crimes, and told the FSB he wanted it to protect young people from extremism.
"Radicalism, whatever political or ideological nature it has, is in essence destructive, and we’re obliged to protect the country and people’s future from this threat," said Putin.