KGB's old London hands overwhelmed by nostalgia for single malt and brogues

There is little to distinguish them from a group of old gents you might find on a putting green in Surrey. They wear flannels, Austin Reed sports jackets, brogues, and Eton ties. You would hardly know that they are not from middle England, but former Soviet spies.

Spies who have one thing in common: they all worked for the KGB in London, gathering information for their masters in Moscow. Pining for the pleasures of British life, they have formed a club which meets in Moscow's restaurants to reminisce about their happy Cold War days.

"Despite the terrible blows that the British secret service dealt us, we remain inveterate Anglophiles and at the club, the atmosphere of Pall Mall reigns," wrote Mikhail Lyubimov, a former KGB agent, in an article about the spies club's activities in the Moscow Times yesterday.

You might expect these elders of espionage to talk only shop. Far from it. Their gatherings, says the ex-colonel, could easily pass for a birthday party given by a group of old professors. "The conversation is often in English and, naturally, like all true gentlemen, everyone drinks Scotch whisky exclusively, preferably 12-year-old single malts.

"Contrary to stereotypes in the Western press, we are very kind and decent people. [We talk] about the treasures of the National Gallery, dog races, the Henley regatta and gatherings in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub," continued Mr Lyubimov, the club's chairman.

These days, however, the gentlemen are badly out of sorts. "Many club members believe that Western countries are not treating Russia properly," he complains. Why, for example, have many former KGB officers been refused visas, while ex-CIA agents and Britons who were once branded persona non grata by Moscow are nowadays allowed into Russia?

Both the West and Russia have continued spying enthusiastically on one another, despite the end of the Cold War. The head of Russia's counter intelligence, Nikolai Kovalyov, claims that within the last year his service exposed 400 foreign agents. This week, a Commons committee warned that Russian agents may be trying to penetrate British intelligence.

But Mr Lyubimov believes the West is guilty of double standards, merrily spying away while condemning - and penalising - Russia for doing the same.

However, he and his fellow spies do have their limits. They drew the line at a proposal made by one of the guests at a club meeting. According to Mr Lyubimov, a British human rights activist called on the assembled spooks to repent for their sin of persecuting dissidents. This "did not evoke any enthusiasm on the part of club members," the KGB veteran remarked.

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