Prime Minister Vladimir Putin revealed he met and even sang patriotic Soviet songs with the group of Russian spies deported from the United States in the biggest espionage swap since the Cold War.
Putin, who himself served as a KGB agent in the ex-East Germany in the dying years of the Soviet Union, said the group included Anna Chapman, the Russian woman whose glamorous looks turned her into a tabloid star worldwide.
"I met with them. We talked about life. We sang. It was not karaoke but live music," Putin told Russian reporters on a visit to Ukraine, according to a transcript posted Sunday on the government website.
"We sang 'From Where the Motherland Begins'," a hugely popular 1960s song made famous in a USSR film about a Soviet spy working in Nazi Germany.
"I'm not joking, I am serious. And other songs with a similar content," said Putin.
|Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rides Harley Davidson Lehman Trike decorated with Russian and Ukrainian national flags as he arrives for the meeting with motorbikers at their camp near Sevastopol in Ukraine's Crimea on July 24, 2010|
The group of 10 spies, many of whom had been working for years undercover in the United States as sleeper agents, returned to Russia earlier this month in a swap that saw Moscow send four Russian convicts to the West.
The 10 Kremlin agents had been arrested in an FBI swoop that initially threatened to derail a rapid improvement in Russia-US relations championed by President Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin hinted that the agents' cover had been blown as a result of "treason" and that he knew the names of those responsible.
"This was the result of treason and traitors always end badly. They finish up as drunks, addicts, on the street," said Putin.
Many ex-KGB spies have gone on the record slamming the shoddy and apparently antiquated spycraft of the 10, who were working for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).
But Putin indicated that the deported spooks would not be left without employment. "They will work, I am sure, they will work in worthy places. I do not doubt that they will have an interesting, bright life."
He did not give further details on his encounter with Chapman, saying only that she had been present at the meeting. He did not say when or where the meeting had taken place.
Without talking specifically about the work of the deported spies, Putin praised the work of Russian agents, saying they "have a difficult life, every one of them."
"You need to fulfil the task set in the interests of your motherland for many many years, not counting on diplomatic cover, exposing to danger yourself and your loved ones," said Putin.