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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 23:01 GMT
Russian spy chief backs NGO bill
By Steven Eke
BBC Russian affairs analyst


Sergei Lebedev
Lebedev rarely gives interviews
Sergei Lebedev, the head of Russian foreign intelligence, is one of the most elusive Russian officials, and rarely gives interviews.

So his intervention now in support of tighter restrictions on non-governmental groups (NGOs) is a sign of the determination of the country's security services to see the measures introduced.

For two or more years, Russian officials have been complaining of a rapid growth in what they claim is western spying in their country, often under the guise of foreign-funded NGOs.

But western governments also claim there has been a similar upturn in Russian espionage in their countries.

Clandestine activity

There is a peculiar ring of the Cold War in Mr Lebedev's assertions that foreign-funded non-governmental groups are fronts for spies.

But the accusation is not new. Over recent months, Russian security chiefs have singled out a small number of foreign organisations.

They are the British Council; the specialist British charity, Merlin; the US Peace Corps; the Saudi Red Crescent and the Kuwaiti Social Reform Society.

All have categorically denied being involved in clandestine activity in Russia.

But they have had their affairs scrutinised by Russian officials, and a number of their workers have been expelled from the country.

Moscow also says that key organisations involved in the series of revolutions across the former Communist world were essentially fronts for western intelligence.

Among those accused are Serbia's Otpor; Georgia's Kmara; Ukraine's Pora and now, Belarus' Zubr.

In essence, Russia accuses the West of on-going attempts to limit its regional influence and economic capacity.

The public perception may be that all this ended with the Cold War, but in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have still been periodic expulsions of diplomats and others.

Some dismiss Russia's claims as the result of a persecution mania or inferiority complex.

But it is clear that suspicions remain strong on both sides of the former ideological divide.

This summer, British spy chiefs said Russia had returned to Soviet levels of espionage, and was working more actively against western commercial, military and technological interests than any other nation except China.

SEE ALSO
Russia accuses groups of spying
08 Dec 05 |  Europe
Head-to-Head: Russian NGOs bill
23 Nov 05 |  Europe
Russian MPs act to 'curb' NGOs
23 Nov 05 |  Europe

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