Out of Russia: Farewell to the Profumo affair's other casualty

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The Independent Online
MOSCOW - One of the last characters from the Cold War world of spying was laid to rest in Moscow's Khavanskaya cemetery yesterday. Nature, as ever indifferent to the affairs of men, produced a glorious day of sun and frost for the farewell to Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, whose sordid career began in scandal and ended in disappointment and alcoholism.

Captain Ivanov, you will recall, was the Soviet naval attache and secret agent for the GRU (Moscow's military intelligence service) who in 1963 compromised Britain's then war minister, John Profumo, in a high-society scandal that led to the downfall of Harold Macmillan's Conservative government. Mr Profumo tried to deny it at first, but eventually he was forced to confess to Parliament that he and the Russian were sleeping with the same call girl, Christine Keeler.

London's assumption was that the lothario Ivanov had set a deliberate honey trap for the minister, to extract military pillow-talk from him. An inquiry concluded that Britain's security had not been damaged, but Mr Profumo had no choice but to resign. He later went on to redeem himself by doing charitable works in east London.

Ivanov returned to Moscow but not, as we thought in Britain, to a hero's welcome from his Kremlin spymasters. He, too, it turned out, was in serious trouble and, unlike Mr Profumo, he failed to rise again after his fall from grace.

The full, grubby story of Captain Ivanov emerged just two years ago when the old spy invited a few Western journalists to his modest Moscow flat to mark the launch of his autobiography, The Naked Truth. I was one of them, and the astonishing tale he told (if we can believe it, for his brain was by then addled by alcohol) was that the prostitute had been as much his downfall as Mr Profumo's. 'Christine Keeler was my biggest mistake,' Ivanov said. 'She wrecked my career.'

True, the Russians were out to ensnare Mr Profumo but, according to Ivanov's account, they planned to do it subtly and for long-term gain, using documents and not the crude weapon of sex. Ivanov just happened to see Mr Profumo and Ms Keeler at one of the pool-side parties captured in the recent film Scandal, and to fancy the prostitute himself. He regarded her as nothing more than a bimbo and failed to see how he might use her. 'She was a half-literate lass good only for showing her legs,' he said two years ago. 'Was I going to get her to ask Profumo about atomic secrets in bed? Do you take me for a fool?'

When the scandal of the shared woman broke, Ivanov was recalled to Moscow and punished by being given a series of low-level administrative jobs at the GRU. He hit the bottle hard until he became a hopeless alcholic. 'Basically he drank himself to death,' his ghost-writer, Yevgeny Sokolov, said this week. 'We had invited him to celebrate his 68th birthday last Monday, but he had sunk into one of his depressions and I suppose he started to drink again. When he returned to Moscow, he was never fully accepted. He felt misunderstood, mistreated, alone.'

Perhaps if Ivanov had been working for the KGB, he would have been rewarded with a medal and a new foreign posting, for the old Soviet security police did indeed use sexual blackmail as a routine way of recruiting agents. But the GRU, which was in competition with the KGB, seems to have had different notions of what constituted worthy behaviour in its officers.

The military were out in force, however, for the funeral yesterday, and rifle shots were fired as the coffin was lowered into the frozen ground. With Philby, Burgess and Maclean all dead and gone, Ivanov's passing marks the end of an era.