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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Spies Need to Start Earning Their Paychecks

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Much was made of President Vladimir Putin's Nov. 8 visit to the futuristic, new Moscow headquarters of the General Staff's Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU.

Looking raffishly sinister, Putin took target practice with pistols on the firing range. During his tour Putin, was photographed peering down with interest at the GRU seal inlaid in the marble floor -- a bat whose wingspan is greater than a background circle representing the world. The bat looked very Bruce Wayne but the inevitable comparisons were with James Bond, especially with the new version of Casino Royale that opened recently.

But what Putin said at the GRU headquarters was more significant than what he did.

Addressing his audience as "comrades," Putin spoke in oblique terms when explaining why Russia needed to spend $357 million on the new facility: "Relations are being undermined by unilateral action undertaken by a number of countries that is not legitimate in international law and by attempts by some countries unceremoniously to impose their positions while taking no account of the legitimate interests of other partners. And you know what means states make use of when carrying out such action: the economy, political and diplomatic means, and a monopoly on the world media."

Recent polls in Russia were much more explicit than Putin was. Sixty-three percent of Russians felt positive toward the United States in 2002; that number is now 49 percent. The main reasons cited for the drop were "the Bush administration's desire to impose its values on the world" and "U.S. foreign policy, its aspiration for global domination and interference in other countries' affairs," which 18 percent cited as the real cause of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

If Bush's policies are the source of Russian suspicion, then it follows that the resounding defeat his party suffered in the midterm elections would be viewed as a positive development. Nothing of the sort. Sergei Rogov, director of the USA and Canada Institute, a government-funded think tank, says: "Relations between Russia and the United States will continue to worsen" because "there is no principal difference between Republicans and Democrats. Both parties assess Russia's internal and foreign policies extremely negatively."

The far right agrees with the academy. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky says: "Clinton bombed Yugoslavia, and Bush Iraq." In fact, "the Democrats are nastier than the Republicans; they are like our [Grigory] Yavlinsky and [Boris] Nemtsov."

Konstantin Kosachyov, the chairman of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, takes a more nuanced stance, though he too sees little difference between the Republican and Democratic attitudes toward Russia. Change will come not from either of those parties, but from Russia itself as it continues to turn away from the United States and the West in nearly all spheres. Areas of mutual interest will, of course, remain; negotiation and cooperation will remain necessary and possible.

According to the 35-page document "On the Likely Scenario of U.S. Action in Regard to Russia in 2006-2008," the real problem is that Washington "cannot come to terms with Russia's growing strength" and "sovereign democracy in Russia." The document, which is said to have Kremlin support, began circulating in the Duma in September. It was co-authored by a former Soviet ambassador to West Germany and a former foreign intelligence chief. They claim the CIA is preparing an Orange-type revolution to bring down the Putin regime from within around the time of the 2008 election.

If Russia and the United States are doomed to be semi-hostile rivals, the intelligence agencies on both sides should justify their fancy buildings by presenting clear and realistic images of the competition. Some of the recent stuff out of Russia sounds, well, how should I put it -- rather batty.

Richard Lourie is the author of "The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin" and "Sakharov: A Biography."