Ahead of Russia’s March 18 presidential election which he is expected to win comfortably, Vladimir Putin bragged that his domestic intelligence service, the FSB, had thwarted more than 400 spies last year alone while calling the agency to block further attempts to obtain economic, military and political information.
Putin made his comments in a speech to FSB employees in Moscow, where he mentioned the need for Russia to improve its cyber-defenses and harden confidential communications systems used by Russian officials.
The former head of the FSB echoed a core narrative during his speech — that Russia is a fortress that is surrounded by hostile actors and he is 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, spycraft 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 was thwarted,” he said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said earlier that Russia had evidence the U.S. was attempting to meddle in the upcoming election but he declined to discuss it publicly. [source]
Analysis: Much of this sounds like typical campaign rhetoric though it isn’t as if Putin is in any real danger of losing his reelection bid. As for evidence of U.S. “meddling,” that could also be a tit-for-tat response to American claims of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which a number of our intelligence agencies have confirmed. But it’s not out of the realm of plausibility; the U.S., like Russia and the Soviet Union before it, have for decades attempted to subvert each other politically, economically, and militarily. No one should be surprised that such ‘meddling’ continues today. It’s called “espionage” and most powers engage in it.