FOROS, Ukraine – Vladimir Putin says he met with the Russian spies who were expelled from the United States, joining them in singing an unofficial KGB anthem and promising them good jobs and a bright future back in their homeland.
Russia’s prime minister said late Saturday he recently got together with the 10 sleeper agents, without saying when or where. The agents were deported from the U.S. earlier this month in a biggest spy scandal since the Cold War.
“We talked about life,” Putin told reporters in Ukraine. “We sang ‘What Motherland Begins With’ and other songs of that character.”
“What Motherland Begins With” is a song from the 1968 television series about Soviet spies in Nazi Germany. The song is widely known as an unofficial anthem of Russian intelligence officers.
Putin, a former KGB officer who in the early 1980s worked in communist East Germany as a low-level functionary, spoke about the uneasy lives the secret agents had in the U.S., where they were caught by the FBI in U.S. cities and suburbs where they had been living for more than a decade.
“They had a very difficult fate,” Putin said, referring to the expelled spies who spent years of burrowing into American society. “They had to carry out a task to benefit their motherland’s interests for many, many years without a diplomatic cover, risking themselves and those close to them.”
The 10 agents were deported in exchange for three former intelligence officers and a think-tank arms expert convicted and sentenced to long prison sentences in Russia. An 11th Russian spy escaped authorities in Cyprus and remains at large, and a 12th one, who had worked for Microsoft, was deported from the United States in mid-July.
U.S. authorities did not charge the agents with spying, and it is not clear whether they actually compromised any U.S. secrets. Some Russian analysts called their mission a failure that showed how inefficient Russian intelligence agencies are.
Putin, however, promised that Russia will take a good care of its spying sons and daughters.
“They will work, and I am sure they will have decent jobs,” he said. “And I am sure they will have an interesting and bright life.”
The biggest spy swap since the Soviet collapse did not complicate President Barack Obama’s campaign to improve and broaden U.S. relations with Russia, and both Moscow and Washington sides expressed satisfaction with the resolution of the spy case.