Vladimir Putin has met with the Russian spies who were expelled from the United States, and sung patriotic songs with them. The Russian Prime Minister said that the spy ring had been betrayed by "traitors", who would probably end up "in the gutter".
Mr Putin confirmed that redheaded Anna Chapman, whose party-going lifestyle and nude photographs have made her a tabloid sensation, was among those he met. They "talked about life" and also sang "Where the Motherland Begins", he told reporters in the Ukraine.
The song was popular among Soviet intelligence officers, and featured in a much-loved 1960s television series about a Soviet agent working in Nazi Germany. Mr Putin added that "it wasn't karaoke; we sang to live music". He gave no details of where and when the bizarre singalong took place. The Russian Prime Minister is a former head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, and spent three years working for the KGB in East Germany.
"They will work, and I am sure they will have decent jobs," he said of the spies' futures. "And I am sure they will have an interesting and bright life."
None of the 10 deported agents has been seen in public or given any interviews since they were swapped for four Russians accused of spying for the West earlier this month.
The Russian media has reported that they are undergoing a lengthy debriefing at a secret facility belonging to the SVR, the Russian intelligence agencies, though Ms Chapman's US lawyer said last week that the 28-year-old had been spending time with her family, and was trying to revive her real estate business.
Mr Putin's praise is unexpected – the state-controlled Russian media has up to now given little attention to the spy scandal, and many commentators have pointed out the apparent incompetence of the spy ring and its failure to uncover any sensitive information. The impression was that the country's leaders wanted to brush the scandal under the carpet and move on. But the tough-talking Prime Minister praised the work of the group, and said that their lives had been dangerous and difficult.
"They had to carry out a task to benefit their motherland's interests for many, many years without diplomatic cover, risking themselves and those close to them," he said. He also stressed how hard it was to gain complete fluency in another language. Some of the Russian spies were living in the US under false, American, identities.
Mr Putin told journalists that the spies had been betrayed by traitors, and claimed to know the culprits by name. When asked if he was planning to punish them, he said ominously that that it was not the right question to ask at a press conference.
"They live by their own laws, and these laws are well known to all the special services," he said.
"Things always end badly for traitors," the Russian Prime Minister added. "They usually end up in the gutter, from alcohol or drugs."