Russian spies in trouble over joyride

Graduates of Russia’s top security academy FSB in a video showing them riding around Moscow in rented luxury vehicles which cost at least $140,000 each. The agents ordered a slickly produced professional video of their parade, posing with their fac
Graduates of Russia’s top security academy FSB in a video showing them riding around Moscow in rented luxury vehicles which cost at least $140,000 each. The agents ordered a slickly produced professional video of their parade, posing with their faces clearly visible to the camera.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

Parade around Moscow in rented luxury cars takes place at a time when the economy is ailing

MOSCOW • Officers and recent graduates of Russia's top security academy will be reprimanded or fired after a video circulated online showing them going for a joyride around Moscow in a parade of gleaming black luxury vehicles, the Federal Security Service said.

The agency, known as the FSB, said in an exceedingly rare statement on Thursday that the incident had compromised its credibility in the eyes of the Russian public.

The incident took place last month. About 50 young men celebrated their graduation from the agency's academy by honking and waving from a fleet of 30 rented Mercedes G-Class SUVs, roaring through the streets of the capital.

The vehicles, which are popular with Russian gangsters and the bodyguards who protect top government officials, cost at least US$105,000 (S$140,000) each in Russia.

With the country in a sustained economic downturn, the sight of the agents careering through Moscow was hardly an image that the agency, where President Vladimir Putin once worked, would want to project.

Making matters worse, the joyriders ordered a slickly produced professional video of their parade, complete with techno rap music booming on the soundtrack.

LESSONS DOWN THE DRAIN

For four years, they were taught the main principles: covertness, modesty, thoughtfulness, watchfulness. Whom did we get? Narcissistic merchants.

 MR ALEXANDER MIKHAILOV, a retired major-general in the FSB

In two scenes in the video, the agents pose together with their faces clearly visible to the camera.

According to a comment posted online with the video, the men involved had studied in the academy's military intelligence department.

"Their shameless and ostentatious behaviour, connected with the short-term rental of luxury cars," the agency's statement said, "provoked reasonable indignation from the public and sharp condemnation by the professional community as incompatible with the professional code of ethics."

When a joyride participant posted the video online, it went viral and provoked public uproar.

"This looks like an advertisement for public service," wrote Mr Andrei Kostin, a commenter. "This is where school graduates should apply, instead of becoming teachers, doctors, engineers."

Mr Alexander Mikhailov, a retired major-general in the security service, said in a televised interview that he was furious when he saw the video and suggested that posting it online could be construed as treasonous.

"For four years, they were taught the main principles: covertness, modesty, thoughtfulness, watchfulness," Mr Mikhailov told Ren-TV. "Whom did we get? Narcissistic merchants."

One man, who said he took part in the ride, criticised Mr Mikhailov's sharp comments, saying in a radio interview that they only exacerbated the damage.

The man, who identified himself only as Vsevolod, told the Govorit Moskva radio station that the graduates were given the use of the vehicles by more senior officers of the security service.

The FSB is the successor to the Soviet KGB, which was once led by Mr Putin. It remains one of the most powerful agencies in Russia.

Mr Putin's spokesman, Mr Dmitri Peskov, declined to comment on the matter last week, saying it was up to the academy and the Moscow traffic police to make their own assessments of the incident.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline 'Russian spies in trouble over joyride'. Print Edition | Subscribe