Russia Uncovers 'Foreign Spy Activity'

Russia's security chief said today that his agency has uncovered US, British, Kuwaiti and Saudi spy activity that was being conducted under the cover of non-governmental organisations.

The head of the Federal Security Service or FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, also suggested that foreign governments are using NGOs to fund and support changes of power in former Soviet republics.

Patrushev told MPs in parliament that his agency, known by its Russian acronym FSB and is the main successor to the Soviet KGB, has prevented espionage operations by the US, Britain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

€œThe activity by these states was conducted by non-governmental organisations working in Russia,€ Patrushev said. He did not name any organisations or give details about the alleged spying.

Patrushev, who is considered a close ally of President Vladimir Putin - a longtime KGB officer and former FSB chief - said that "foreign intelligence services are using non-traditional methods" along with classic spying techniques.

He said that "lobbying of the interests of foreign states and information-gathering are conducted under the cover of various humanitarian and educational programmes."

Patrushev reiterated claims by Russian officials who have accused the US and other Western nations of using NGOs to aid opposition forces that have brought down governments in other ex-Soviet republics in the past two years.

His comments came just two days after US President George Bush visited Georgia, site of the "Rose Revolution" 18 months ago that marked the start of a wave of uprisings against entrenched leaders in ex-Soviet republics.

An uprising followed in Ukraine, then in Kyrgyzstan.

"Our opponents are steadily and persistently trying to weaken Russian influence in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the international arena as a whole," Patrushev said. "The latest events in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan unambiguously confirm this."

Patrushev suggested Russia believes the next Western target is Moscow ally Belarus, where US officials have not masked their disgust at authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and have called for free elections next year.

He said that "according to certain information, more than 2.7 million has been earmarked by non-governmental organisations for financing future elections,"and claimed there were efforts under way to bring Ukrainians who protested during last year's "Orange Revolution" to foment change in Belarus.

The FSB routinely claims to have uncovered spying by foreign countries including the US, but Patrushev's remarks in the lower parliament house came days after Putin and Western leaders, including US President George Bush, celebrated unity during commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. Putin also reached a new agreement this week deepening co-operation with the European Union.

Patrushev's statement was the latest from a top official assailing civil society groups in Russia, which Putin criticised last year as often being more interested in foreign funding than in helping Russian people.