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Putin: Russia Cracking Down On Foreign Spies, But Needs Stronger Protection Of Military Secrets

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with top officials of the FSB) at its headquarters in Moscow on March 6.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting with top officials of the FSB) at its headquarters in Moscow on March 6.

President Vladimir Putin has called on Russia's FSB domestic security service to strengthen the protection of information related to new weapons and other sensitive data, saying that foreign intelligence agencies were beefing up activities in the country.

Putin issued the warning in a televised speech on March 6, without mentioning any specific country, amid severely strained relations between Russia and the West, which has accused Moscow of several plots, including interfering in other countries’ elections and the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England a year ago.

The Russian leader's allegations also come after the United States last month suspended participation in a key Cold War-era nuclear arms-control agreement because of what it says is Russia's development and deployment of a missile system that violates the pact. Moscow followed suit earlier this week.

In a speech to top officials of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Putin said that the agency had exposed 129 foreign intelligence officers and 465 of their agents last year. He did not provide details.

Each year, Putin visits the FSB for a board meeting during which he announces how many foreign agents Russia allegedly managed to catch the previous year.

There is no way to independently verify the figures.

"We see foreign intelligence agencies trying to increase their activity toward Russia, seeking by all means to access political, economic, scientific, and technological information," the Russian leader on March 6, insisting that the FSB's work "must be efficient, especially regarding the production of Russian weapons systems."

Putin has repeatedly spoken about new weapons such as the Avangard and the Tsirkon, claiming that they have no foreign analogues and are impossible to intercept.

He has made the claims in public remarks he has acknowledged were aimed at getting Western governments to take notice.

In his March 6 speech, Putin mentioned Washington's decision to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, saying it upset international security.

The United States and NATO have repeatedly accused Moscow of violating the accord by developing the 9M729 cruise missile, also known as the SSC-8.

Russia has denied that, and accused the United States of breaking the accord itself, allegations rejected by Washington.

Amid persistent tension between Russia and the West, U.S. and European intelligence agencies have acted against alleged Russian spy and hacking networks in recent months.

In a report issued in December, the Czech Security Intelligence Service (BIS) said it had broken up a group that used the Russian Embassy as cover.

Two months earlier, Dutch and U.S. authorities accused Russia's GRU military intelligence agency of involvement in a multifaceted, multinational hacking campaign that targeted global anti-doping agencies, the international chemical weapons watchdog, and other entities.

And British authorities have charged two Russian men identified as GRU agents with carrying out the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the English city of Salisbury in March 2018.

Moscow has denied it had any involvement in the nerve-agent attack, which led to a series of sanctions against Russia by the West and tit-for-tat diplomatic actions.

More recently, European Council President Donald Tusk on March 5 warned that "anti-European forces" might try to target European Parliament elections in May.

Tusk did not specifically name Russia. But Britain's government has alleged that Russia tried to manipulate Britain's 2016 Brexit referendum, and other EU member states -- including France and Germany -- have charged that Russia has tried to influence their elections in the same way that Russian trolls allegedly interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In January 2017, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia engaged in a campaign of hacking and propaganda to sway voters during the vote, largely aimed at bolstering Trump's chances at the presidency.

Moscow has repeatedly denied the Western allegations of spying and hacking.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and the BBC
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