Victor Makarov: the Russian who risked his life for Britain in the Cold War

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The Independent Online

Victor Makarov once spied for Britain from the heart of the KGB, spending five years in a labour camp after he was caught. After MI6 helped him defect to this country, he hoped for a new and prosperous beginning in the nation for which he had risked his life.

Victor Makarov once spied for Britain from the heart of the KGB, spending five years in a labour camp after he was caught. After MI6 helped him defect to this country, he hoped for a new and prosperous beginning in the nation for which he had risked his life.

But the reality has been very different - living on a disability allowance and a few official handouts, he has become the spy who has been left out in the cold, embittered and poverty-stricken. Now a man who is a reminder of aspects of an era both sides hoped would be quietly forgotten, has re-emerged: a former spy who wants to claim what he believes is his due.

Today, Mr Makarov, now 49, says he will begin an indefinite hunger strike, camped on the pavement in Whitehall, opposite the gates to Downing Street, in support of his claim for an annual defectors' pension. He said: "It is not a real hardship for me. I have been in a Soviet labour camp. I know about hunger.'' He will have just a sleeping bag for warmth.

Mr Makarov's story of betrayal could be straight out of the pages of John Le Carre or Len Deighton. Born in Moscow in 1955, he was an ambitious young KGB officer who had graduated from the organisation's academy in the same year as Vladimir Putin, now President of his country. By the mid-1980s, he was an analyst in the KGB's secret 16th directorate, which decoded intercepted diplomatic traffic from the West.

But a growing unhappiness about the repressive regime in his own country and corresponding interest in the West encouraged him to learn English. He fell in love with his English teacher, Olga Bireva, a translator and Anglophile who encouraged him to try to defect to Britain, where they could begin a new life together.

Olga made an approach to a British businessman she knew, who, it turned out, worked for MI6. The Secret Intelligence Service, as was common in such cases, demanded a trade-off. Mr Makarov said: "They wanted me to stay where I was and give them information. Then they would help me get out.''

For almost two years, he passed on crucial information about how his department intercepted diplomatic messages, while pressing his handlers to get them both out. His contribution has subsequently been recognised by experts on the intelligence world.

While MI6 prevaricated, he was arrested for treason in July 1987, interrogated for five months - he gave nothing away - and sentenced to 10 years in the notorious Perm-35 labour camp in the Arctic Circle. While he was incarcerated, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact collapsed; he was released in 1992 under an amnesty for the last political prisoners.

Within days he was back in contact with MI6 and, although it is unlikely he would have been prevented from leaving officially, was "smuggled" to London via Riga and Helsinki. Mr Makarov claims he was promised sufficient financial help to enable a decent standard of living. Instead, he was handed over to MI5, who arranged for him to get a British passport, found him a rented bedsit, gave him £12,000 and left him to fend for himself. Since then, living on a meagre budget and unable to find work, he has fought the security service for what he considers to be his right to a fair standard of living.

Mr Makarov's only income comes from benefits and a disability allowance awarded because of the depression he claims to suffer because of his position. He has received some small payments since 1992 and, three years ago, when he began a legal action against the Home Office for breach of its duty of care, received £65,000, which helped him buy a small house in Northumberland, an area he chose because it reminded him of Russia. And the house prices are low. He is now seeking a defector's pension, of the type awarded to other spies, such as Mikhail Butkov, who was reported as receiving an initial payment of £100,000 and a £14,000 annual pension. Although given some help in creating a new identity, he wants further assistance because he believes that, under President Putin, a risk remains to his life. He said: "I cannot find work because I am not really trained to do anything other than be an intelligence officer - and there is not much call for them any more. I hope that I might be able to teach Russian at the Foreign Office, but they do not want to know. I feel I have been betrayed by the country for whom I risked my life.'' He is also convinced the intelligence services know the whereabouts of Olga, who disappeared after he was arrested.

His solicitor, Nogah Ofer, of the London firm Hickman and Rose, believes he has been unfairly treated: "Mr Makarov has been treated very badly. They used him and then lost interest and abandoned him when he was no longer any use to them. He is in limbo.''

So how long does he intend to remain on the pavement in Whitehall? "As long as necessary. Labour camps are a good school for this kind of thing.''

The Home Office said it did not comment on individual cases.