MOSCOW — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who famously launched his career as a spy, used an old secret service joke to demonstrate the levels of bureaucracy plaguing his country.
The joke in which none of the officials want to assume responsibility for arresting a US agent, came days after a bomb blast killed 35 people in a Moscow airport that critics blamed on lapses in security and bureaucratic corruption.
"So an American spy comes to Lubyanka," Putin told a government meeting in remarks broadcast on Russian television late Thursday, referring to the headquarters of the Soviet-era KGB.
"I am a spy and I want to turn myself in," Putin continued with a small smirk on his face.
"Are you armed?" the US spy is asked, to which he responds yes.
"Then you have to go to room number seven," a Russian official tells him, according to Putin.
There the US spy is asked if he is carrying communication equipment -- another affirmative answer sends the US agent to yet another official's office.
In the end, the exasperated spy is asked by yet another official if he has an actual assignment to work on.
"Yes," says the spy.
"Then go carry it out and stop bothering people at work," he is told.
Russia has launched repeated unsuccessful campaigns to cut the amount of red tape plaguing the vast country since the Soviet era.
Putin did not make a direct link between bureaucracy and Monday's suspected suicide bombing attack on Russia's busiest airport, but critics blame lapses in basic security on the Putin government's inefficiency and red tape.
Known for his tough talk and occasional use of secret service lingo, Putin served as a foreign intelligence agent in Germany in the Soviet era before becoming head of Russia's main successor to the KGB, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and then president between 2000 and 2008.