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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Turned East Europe Into Spy Platform

Western spy services have turned former Soviet allies in Eastern Europe into a platform for operations against Russia, the nation's intelligence chief said in an interview published Wednesday.

"The spy agencies of leading NATO countries are welcome guests in most European countries that were formerly members of the Warsaw Pact," Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, told the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

"From their territories, Western spy services conduct their operations, including contacts with Russian citizens, their agents."

He pointed to the recent espionage conviction of U.S. businessman Edmond Pope as evidence that foreign spies were making strong efforts to steal Russian military secrets.

Pope, 54, was sentenced two weeks ago to 20 years in prison on charges of illegally obtaining military technology. The U.S. government strongly criticized the trial, saying that Russia had failed to prove his guilt.

President Vladimir Putin pardoned Pope last week, citing the prisoner's poor health and the desire for good relations between Russia and the United States.

Pope's case spooked foreign businessman, and Patrushev confirmed that they are a focus of his agency.

"Foreign spy-businessmen were feeling very comfortable in murky waters"after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Patrushev was quoted as saying. "A few pennies could buy know-how that had been created through the work of thousands of people."

Patrushev's interview was published on Wednesday to mark Chekist's Day, a Soviet-era holiday commemorating the Dec. 20, 1917 establishment of the secret police. The agents of the first Soviet secret police agency, known as the Cheka, were called Chekists, and their successors in agencies including the Soviet-era KGB and today's FSB adopted the anniversary as their professional holiday.

Patrushev acknowledged his agency had some "tragic"pages, but spoke about its history with pride. He also said that the appearance of former KGB officers in high government posts was prompted by a "vital necessity to infuse fresh blood into the government."

Putin, a career KGB officer, has put many of his former colleagues into senior government positions - a trend started by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin. Critics have voiced fears that the former KGB officials might try to re-establish elements of the repressive Soviet system and crack down on democratic freedoms. Patrushev denied the allegations.

The former spies "well realize that it's impossible to return to the past and the country must develop on the basis of a reasonable combination of liberal and traditional values,"Patrushev said.

The Foreign Intelligence Service, another KGB successor, marked the holiday with a CD containing favorite spy songs.

Putin was to mark the holiday with an official dinner at the Kremlin.