Kim Philby 'driven into rage by sight of Brezhnev'

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - Kim Philby would shake with rage and run from the room when Leonid Brezhnev appeared on the Soviet television news, according to the Cambridge spy's Russian widow, writes Andrew Higgins.

In her first interview, Rufina Pukhova, who was Philby's fourth and final wife, also describes 'nightmare' drinking binges that 'turned this cleverest of men into a fool'.

Her account of 17 years with the best known of the Cambridge spies contrasts sharply with that of Philby himself, who only six months before his death in May 1988 denounced as 'complete rubbish' Western reports that he was anything but enchanted with life in Moscow.

'He was delighted by perestroika because Brezhnev's epoch and corruption enraged him,' says Mrs Philby. But he quickly tired of Mikhail Gorbachev's long-winded speeches: 'Why listen to all this if the BBC tells it all in just three words?' he once demanded.

In a lengthy conversation with Literaturnaya Gazeta to be published today, Philby's widow says he was a fine husband and father but a deeply troubled man. Alcoholism, she says, nearly destroyed him: 'He used to begin his day with wine and then it went on and on, eternally, until it became a nightmare.' Helping him cut back to a few drinks in the evening was 'maybe the only thing in my life I can be proud of'.

She still lives in his comfortable flat near Pushkin Square but says the privilege she remembers best is the de luxe soap Philby got at the KGB sanatorium. His first Moscow salary was 500 roubles a month (now worth less than 50p) later raised to 800. Philby, she says, asked for it to be reduced when it became clear his family would not be coming out from England. The KGB replied that 'bureaucratic reasons' made it impossible to cut pay.

Mrs Philby does solve one small but intriguing riddle of Cold War espionage: what first impression does a great KGB Cambridge spy make on a young Russian woman? 'Honestly, none . . . an elderly man with a kind but flabby face.'

His first words: 'Take off your spectacles. I want to see your eyes.' It was, he would tell her later, love at first sight.