- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The Putin show was in full effect last weekend during the prime minister’s visit to Ukraine. Putin visited a biker rally in Sevastapol where he rode what he called a “tricked out bike,” but as Russia Monitor’s Jesse Heath noted, the three-wheeled contraption looked more Rascal Scooter than Easy Rider.
Then there was the revelation that met and held an impromptu Soviet karaoke session with the returned SVR “illegals”:
“I met with them. We talked about life,” Putin told reporters Saturday at the Crimean resort of Foros, according to a transcript published on the prime minister’s web site.
“They will find decent work — I’m sure. I don’t doubt that they will have interesting, bright lives,” said Putin, who served as a KGB agent in East Germany in the 1980s and led the Federal Security Service in the late 1990s.
He said he had joined them in singing several songs, including “With What the Motherland Begins?” from the 1968 Soviet movie “The Shield and the Sword” about an undercover Russian spy in Nazi Germany.
Here’s the song if you’re curious. According to the IMDB synopsis of the film, the hero’s “perfect German and cool demeanor allows him to make a career in the SS Headquarters in Berlin.” This sounds a bit more heroic than attending PTA meetings in Montclair but I guess times change.
Putin also suggested that a betrayal was responsible for the spies’ capture, and engaged in some characteristic machismo:
Traitors always end badly. As a rule, they end up in the gutter as drunks or drug addicts,” he said.
When asked whether the state was planning to take revenge on the traitors, Putin said, “The special services live under their own laws, and everyone knows what these laws are.”
On RFE/RL’s Power Vertical blog, Brian Whitmore speculates that the spy scandal will lead to a house cleaning at the SVR, and perhaps even a return to something more closely resembling the Soviet KGB:
Putin has in the past used security disasters to strengthen his beloved power vertical — most notably scrapping the election of governors following the 2004 Beslan tragedy.
The recent spy scandal gives him the chance to reverse something he has always despised — the post-Soviet breakup of his beloved KGB.
For more on how the SVR has evolved since the breakup of the Soviet Union and how Putin has worked to remake the agency, see Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan’s recent FP piece.