A former officer in Russia’s military intelligence service has refuted Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russian spies do not engage in torture or kidnapping, saying such methods are widespread.
By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
In an interview with CNN earlier this week the Russian prime minister, himself a former KGB spy, claimed that Russia’s spies were much more principled than their American counterparts and were not known to have been involved “in creating secret prisons, kidnappings or torture.”
Historian Boris Volodarsky, a UK-based veteran of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, said however that Mr Putin’s comments were wide of the mark.
“Everyone knows about the methods that were and are used by the FSB security service and especially by the FSB’s Special Forces in the Caucasus republics (in southern Russia) and in Chechnya,” Mr Volodarsky told Radio Free Europe.
“It is very well known that people are kidnapped, tortured and killed with the direct participation of employees from Russia’s intelligence services.” Mr Volodarsky, who has written a book about the Kremlin’s secret assassination squads over the years, also questioned Mr Putin’s other central claim that the 10 Russian spies deported from America this summer did no damage to US interests.
He said the group, including glamorous agent Anna Chapman, would have had a range of tasks to fulfil including identifying new agents to recruit. Their main task however would have been to act as a go-between for agents in the field by passing information between them and diplomats in the Russian embassy, he added.
Mr Putin gave his interview to CNN in the same week as he and his country found themselves targeted in a series of leaked US diplomatic cables that portrayed Russia as a virtual “mafia state.”
Mr Putin rejected allegations that he had amassed a secret fortune through corruption in the Kremlin, or that he had probably known of the plot to murder Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
“These are mere insinuations, total nonsense, and it is very hard to imagine that diplomats are spreading this like tabloids,” Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, told the Interfax news agency.
“If there are real diplomats behind these texts, it is frustrating and regretful that non-professionals are working in our country. One can only hope that eventually their professionalism will grow and they will stop using rumours as a basis for diplomatic correspondence.”
President Dmitry Medvedev, who would have read US descriptions of him as little more than Mr Putin’s sidekick or more specifically that he was “Robin to Putin’s batman”, made it clear on Friday that he too was annoyed but said the leaks would not derail rapidly warming ties between Washington and Moscow.
“We are not paranoid. We do not tie Russia-US relations to any leaks. But at the same time, these are indicative,” he said. “They show the entire extent of the cynicism of these evaluations.”