As many Russian spies in UK today as in Cold War: Soviet defector

Oleg Gordievsky
The Soviet KGB’s former station chief in London, who defected to the United Kingdom in the 1980s, has alleged that Russia operates as many spies in Britain today as it did during the Cold War. Oleg Gordievsky, 74, a fluent speaker of Russian, German, Swedish, Danish, and English, entered the Soviet KGB in 1963. He eventually joined the organization’s Second Directorate, which was responsible for coordinating the activities of Soviet ‘illegals’, that is, intelligence officers operating abroad without official diplomatic cover. Gordievsky’s faith in the Soviet system was irreparably damaged in 1968, when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia. In 1974, while stationed in Copenhagen, Denmark, he made contact with British intelligence and began his career as a double agent for the UK. In 1985, when he was the KGB’s station chief at the Soviet embassy in London, he was summoned back to Moscow by an increasingly suspicious KGB. He was aggressively interrogated but managed to make contact with British intelligence and was eventually smuggled out of Russia via Finland, riding in the trunk of a British diplomatic vehicle. In 2007, Gordievsky was awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) by the Queen “for services to the security of the UK”. Russia, however, considers Gordievsky a traitor and the government of Vladimir Putin refuses to rescind a death sentence given to him in absentia by a Soviet court. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper this week, Gordievsky said London is currently home to 37 officers of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), one of the successor agencies to the KGB. Hinting at sources inside British intelligence, the Soviet defector said that the Russian embassy in London housed another 14 officers of Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Russia’s primary military intelligence organization. He added that the number of accredited intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover did not include members of an extensive network of informers, who are periodically employed by Russian government operatives. Gordievsky told The Guardian that, in addition to traditional political intelligence on the UK, Russian spies are after “sensitive commercial information”, and are also tasked with monitoring the activities of the Russian expatriate community in the UK, which includes several former oligarchs and critics of the Kremlin.

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