Putin says Russia stopped nearly 600 spies last year

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that the country’s security services stopped nearly 600 foreign agents and intelligence personnel last year, declaring that adversaries were trying to interfere in Russia’s domestic affairs.

Speaking at a board meeting of the Federal Security Service (FSB) — the agency that he led before becoming President — Putin said: “Counterintelligence agencies acted effectively and offensively last year. Thanks to successful special operations, 129 staff officers and 465 agents of foreign special services were stopped.”

Putin added that foreign intelligence agencies “are striving to increase their activity” across Russia, seeking access to information on the country’s economy, scientific research and technology.

“As in the old days, now, perhaps, they are also trying to influence the relevant (political) processes in our country,” he said. “Therefore, (intelligence) work must be efficient, conducted daily and based on modern methods of work.”

Late last year, the FSB arrested US citizen Paul Whelan, a Michigan resident and former Marine, on suspicion of espionage. His state-appointed lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told CNN in January that he was found in possession of classified material when he was arrested in Moscow.

Whelan was denied bail at a pre-trial hearing in January and remains in Lefortovo detention center in Moscow. His family has dismissed the accusation of espionage, saying he has been wrongfully detained.

And, in a case unrelated to espionage, American investor Michael Calvey was recently charged in connection with a large-scale fraud investigation.

The formal charges against Calvey came one day after Putin called on law enforcement agencies to limit the practice of initiating criminal proceedings to pursue business disputes.

Calvey has denied the charges and his firm says it operated in full compliance with Russian law.

In Wednesday’s address, Putin nevertheless called on security personnel to protect entrepreneurs from overzealous law enforcement.

“It is also necessary to promptly respond to violations of the rights of entrepreneurs by individual representatives of law enforcement agencies, control and supervisory authorities,” he said. “I expect that within your authority you will also contribute to the solution of the most important task — to ensuring the legitimate rights and interests of entrepreneurs, and indeed of all citizens of Russia.”