Putin appoints new foreign spy boss
AFP, , Thursday 22 Sep 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thurday appointed the country's hawkish former parliament speaker as the new head of his foreign intelligence agency.

Putin nominated former Duma boss Sergei Naryshkin -- widely reported to have served with him in the Soviet-era KGB -- to take over as head of the SVR from Mikhail Fradkov, days after a thumping win for the ruling United Russia party at legislative elections that will now see a new speaker take over.

The change comes with Russia locked in its worst standoff with the West since the Cold War over the crisis in Ukraine and Moscow's backing for Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The spike in tensions has reportedly pushed the levels of spying from both sides back up to that seen before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

"You are well aware, as we all are, what situation we are in now and how important success for this service is for the stable, secure development of our country," Putin told Naryshkin in televised comments.

"It is important to head off threats that arise in relation to Russia promptly, not to let them grow but on the contrary to act in such a way so that they don't arise -- to neutralise these threats at an early stage."

Naryshkin is a long-standing Putin ally from the president's hometown Saint Petersburg who Russia media claims served as a KGB spy in the West.

According to Naryshkin's official biography he served at the Soviet embassy in Brussels in the 1980s before working with Putin in the Saint Petersburg mayor's office.

The SVR emerged from the KGB's first directorate after the agency was split up following the collapse of the USSR and is tasked with carrying out Russian intelligence operations.

Fradkov -- a former prime minister who headed the spy agency since 2007 -- will now move to the board of directors at the state-run Russian Railways.

Putin has recently reshuffled some of his top allies in moves analysts say could show the Kremlin strongman is blooding a new generation of loyalists as he looks towards the next presidential polls in 2018.