The spy who was sent into the cold

Soviet agent who fed secrets to the British reveals he now lives on state benefits

Brian Brady,Westminster Editor
Sunday 18 July 2010 00:00 BST

He is one of the last of the Cold Warriors. Victor Makarov was spying for Britain in Russia long before the two agents Sergei Skripal and Igor Sutyagin, who were handed over in Vienna this month in the latest spy swap.

But, while Messrs Skripal and Sutyagin, unexpected beneficiaries of the Anna Chapman spy saga, can look forward to comfortable new lives in Britain, Mr Makarov was rewarded with two decades of misery.

"He is valuable to the UK and they will look after him," Mr Makarov said of Mr Skripal, his fellow old-boy from camp Perm 35. "He'll be given somewhere to live and he'll be able to find a job if he wants one. I have nothing against him, but I have been valuable, too." Mr Makarov fed Soviet secrets to Britain more than 20 years ago and, like Mr Skripal, spent years in an Arctic labour camp as a result.

Three years ago, from his tiny house in northern England, Mr Makarov spoke of his fears that the KGB would have its revenge on him. "They will try to shoot me in the back of the head, but they might use poison," he said, in the feverish climate that followed the assassination of his fellow exile Alexander Litvinenko. "They never forget. When I was at the KGB in the 1970s they were still chasing people who had betrayed them 30 years before."

The Russian state has not caught up with Mr Makarov, but he has other troubles. The former code-breaker exists on disability benefits, rather than the pension he believes has been denied him. And, at 55, he has given up applying for jobs after being overlooked for positions ranging from bus driver to security guard to refuse collector. Worst of all, he has now lost his house – bought with a £65,000 "pay-off" he extracted from the security services several years ago – after his failure to keep up repayments on a home-improvement loan.

The gifted linguist, who graduated from the KGB Academy in the same year as Vladimir Putin, now lives with his rescued dog in a one-bedroomed housing association flat.

It is a far remove from the future he dreamed of when he first fell in love with Britain – without ever having visited this country – a quarter of a century ago. By then, the idealistic young officer, who translated secret messages intercepted from foreign embassies, had become disillusioned by what he was learning about Soviet oppression. He contacted MI5 and began passing over KGB intercepts of messages, including details of disputes in the Reagan White House over Moscow, the Israeli siege of Beirut and Zairean opposition attempts to kill President Mobutu.

He and his fiancée, Olga, dreamed of defecting to Britain and starting a new life together, but, before they could do so, in the mid-1980s, Mr Makarov was betrayed by a friend and sent to Perm 35 – the last Soviet Gulag. He never saw Olga again. After five years in prison, he was released under an amnesty and quietly brought to England in 1992 by MI6. His triumphant reception quickly evaporated: he spent most of the following years in squalid "safe-houses". His protests about MI6's "broken promises" of a new identity, a house and a pension led him to a hunger strike outside Downing Street and the unusual lump-sum concession in 2001.

An inveterately stubborn man, who has suffered mental health problems throughout his difficult time in the UK, the former spy has been left to create his own new identity.

"He has been shabbily treated [and] I don't know why," says the intelligence expert David Kahn. "My feeling is that British intelligence wrung him dry and then didn't support him."

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