MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia wheeled out one of its treasured Cold War trophies on Tuesday, publishing a rare interview with a 90-year-old British double agent who recalled sharing martinis outside Moscow with fellow spies in their KGB retirement.
Nearly five decades after he escaped from a British jail and was smuggled to East Berlin in a camper van in one of the classic cloak-and-dagger stories of the 20th century, George Blake lives quietly in the Moscow suburbs with his wife Ida.
“These are the happiest years of my life, and the most peaceful,” Blake, who goes by the Russian name Georgy Ivanovich, said in the interview, published in the Russian government newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta ahead of his 90th birthday.
“When I worked in the West, I always had the risk of exposure hanging over me. That is how it was. Here I feel free,” said Blake, who lives on a pension from ex-KGB.
A photograph accompanying the interview showed the once-dashing agent, seated in an armchair, a dog on his lap. He is balding and has a grey beard.
Far from taking the opportunity to voice regret about his past, Blake entered into a discussion about whether he was a figure of historical importance.
“Looking back on my life, everything seems logical and natural,” he said, describing himself as happy and lucky.
“I have known how to adapt well wherever life has taken me, even when I was in the (Wormwood) Scrubs prison. I always try to find something positive ... I inherited it from my mother. She was always very positive, optimistic, always in a good mood.”
Blake worked for the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, from the 1940s. He became a committed communist while a North Korean prisoner during the Korean war, and worked for Moscow after being posted by MI6 to Berlin in 1955.
Britain says he exposed the identities of hundreds of Western agents across Eastern Europe during the 1950s, some of whom were executed as a result of his treason.
After he was exposed in 1961 by a Polish defector as a Soviet spy, he was sentenced to 42 years jail. But he broke out of prison five years later with the help of other inmates. He hurt his arm during the escape, and was smuggled out to East Berlin in the secret compartment of a camper van.
“Look, you can still see the traces (of the fracture),” Blake told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, holding up his arm.
Blake, who was awarded a medal by President Valdimir Putin in 2007, said nothing about contemporary politics in Russia. Like Putin, who also served as a KGB spy in East Berlin, Blake holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in the ex-Soviet agency.
Blake’s case was among the most notorious of the Cold War, alongside those of a separate ring of British double agents known as the Cambridge Five.
Blake got to know two of the five, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby, during his retirement. At one point in the interview, he reminisced about drinking martinis - the preferred cocktail of fictitious British spy James Bond - with his mother and Philby.
He said he was closer in spirit to Maclean, the member of the group known to have adjusted best to life in Russia. Maclean died in Russia in 1983, and Pilby in 1988, leaving Blake the most famous Cold War turncoat to outlive the Soviet Union.
Of the rest of the Cambridge five, Guy Burgess died in Russia in 1963, while art historian Anthony Blunt confessed in secret, received immunity from prosecution and was exposed only decades later, to die in disgrace in London in 1983. The identity of the ring’s “fifth man” has never been confirmed.
Asked about how he had passed on information to Soviet contacts while in Berlin, Blake said he traveled to the Soviet controlled sector of Berlin on a rail link joining different parts of the divided city.
“I met a Soviet comrade about once a month,” he said, explaining that his contact would be waiting for him in a car and they would go to a safe house.
“I handed over films and we chatted. Sometimes we had a glass of Tsimlyansk champagne (Soviet sparkling wine).”
Blake said his three British sons would travel over to Russia for his birthday. He also has a son who was born and lives in Russia, as well as nine grandchildren.
Editing by Peter Graff