July 24, 2010 / 7:30 PM / 9 years ago

Putin pledges bright future to former spies in U.S

FOROS, Ukraine (Reuters) - Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Saturday he had met with Russian spies swapped in an exchange with the United States earlier this month, and promised them a bright future in Russia.

Members of a Russian spy ring are seen in this courtroom sketch during their appearance in Manhattan Federal Court in New York, July 8, 2010. REUTERS/Christine Cornell

“I have no doubts they will have interesting, bright lives,” Putin, a former KGB agent, told reporters during a working visit to Ukraine.

Ten people pleaded guilty this month to being agents for Russia while living undercover in the United States in one of the biggest spy scandals since the Cold War.

They were deported to Russia, which in turn agreed to release four people imprisoned for suspected contact with Western intelligence agencies.

Among the group Putin met was Anna Chapman, a 28-year-old who ran a $2 million real estate business, who was stripped of her British citizenship following her deportation from the United States. She married a Briton in 2002 but later divorced.

Putin, who served as a KGB agent in East Germany during the Soviet era, did not say where he met the spies but said they sang together Soviet songs and he told them he admired what they did.

“As far as those people are concerned — everyone of them had a tough life,” said Putin.

“First (problem) was to master foreign language as your own. Think and speak it and do what are you told to do for the interest of your motherland for many years without counting on diplomatic immunity,” he added.

Putin said those who betrayed their compatriots would end up paying a heavy price but side stepped questions when asked if Russia planned revenge.

“This (spy scandal) came as a result of betrayal. They (the betrayers) end up taking to drink or drugs,” he said.

But when asked if Russia was planning to take revenge, he said: “It is incorrect to ask about it. The special services live under their own laws and everyone knows what these laws are.”

Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov, editing by Jon Boyle

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