Naryshkin/CIA
© AFP/Saul Loeb/Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin
Sergey Naryshkin • CIA
Russia's main overseas intelligence boss, Sergey Naryshkin of the SVR, has cast a light on the murky world of espionage, painting a bleak picture of betrayal and disinformation cutting through a whole range of geopolitical issues.

Speaking as part of a wide-ranging interview with veteran national TV broadcaster Vladimir Solovyov, aired on Sunday, the secret service chief said that relations were still tense with the US despite hope for a recent thaw. "We understand that through the efforts of the American and Western elites and the media, Russia is largely demonized," he said.

Naryshkin pointed out that President Joe Biden has come under fire for "betraying national interests" just for meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and for not imposing tough new sanctions on the Moscow-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline. According to him, this demonstrates that anti-Russian sentiment will cling on in Washington regardless of who is in the White House. "You just have to live with this," he added.

However, he praised his colleagues working in American intelligence, saying that
"we respect our colleagues, opponents and partners in the CIA. I have said and will repeat that this special service is in the top five, even in the three, the most powerful and effective intelligence services in the world."
At the same time, the SVR head said that there was "good cooperation" with spy agencies of European nations like Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. While no such contacts have apparently been made with CIA Director William Burns, Naryshkin didn't rule out talks in the future.

The intelligence boss went on to say that investigative outlet Bellingcat, which has published a series of explosive and controversial alleged exposes about Russian security services, has tie-ins with overseas spy agencies. According to him, Bellingcat
"is needed to exert pressure either on the country, or on individuals and legal entities. They use dishonest methods. And the information that is used in such cases is false, unverified, it has its own goals... They are ready to perform any task, because they do it for money, not objectively."
He also bemoaned the risk of defections from among his personnel. In his view, such betrayals
"are a tragic event, and this is an emergency in the intelligence community. No service is immune from this, including, unfortunately, the SVR... every employee lives in an environment where factors can affect him. Some people can't resist."
In addition, Naryshkin said that he suspected foul play in the purported poisoning of jailed anti-corruption campaigner Alexey Navalny, which he and his German doctors say was the result of exposure to the nerve agent Novichok. He argued that "a huge amount" of substances could have found their way into the opposition figure's biological samples once outside of Russia, in a bid to make the incident look like an attempted assassination.

The SVR chief also said that Russia's nationwide elections, set to be held in September, could become a focal point for interference. He said the country's "opponents are preparing in full force," but that the security agencies already know "which areas will be struck."