>– Minsk Telegraf Reveals Russian Defector’s Real Name and Career
– President Medvedev Confirms Defection as Espionage Historian Cautions “Colonel Shcherbakov” Could Be False Defector
– Trotsky’s Assassin Commemorated in the KGB Museum of Security Service at the Federal Security Service HQ in Moscow
Pictured above: On November 13, while visiting Sofia, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin cuddles a puppy given as a gift from Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov. Would puppy-loving Bad Vlad send a hit squad to terminate the Russian double agent who exposed an SVR ring in the USA? Da, comrade. Go ask former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko. Oh, I almost forgot. He’s dead.
According to Reuters, citing Russian daily Kommersant, “Colonel Shcherbakov,” head of Russia’s deep-cover spy ring in the USA was responsible for betraying his own network to FBI counter-intelligence and subsequently defecting. “The betrayal,” observes Reuters, “would make Shcherbakov one of the most senior turncoats since the fall of the Soviet Union and could have consequences for Russia’s proud Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and its chief, former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.”
Gennady Gudkov, deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma’s security committee, confirms the accuracy of the original Kommersant story. “It is a major blow to the image of the Russian intelligence services,” he confided to Reuters. By contrast, SVR spokesman Sergei Ivanov refused to comment on the story. Former US intelligence officer Mark Stout opined: “Recruiting a Russian officer who was actually in charge of so-called ‘illegal operations’ in the U.S. is about as big a counter-espionage success as U.S. intelligence can hope to get.”
Kommersant reveals that Shcherbakov fled Russia days before US authorities announced the spy ring arrests on June 28, 2010. Ominously, the paper also quoted a Kremlin official as saying a Russian hit squad was probably already planning to kill him. “We know who he is and where he is,” the anonymous official was quoted as saying. “Do not doubt that a Mercader has been sent after him already.”
Ramon Mercader was a Spanish communist and Soviet agent who tracked down and murdered dissident Bolshevik Leon Trotsky with an ice axe in Mexico in 1940. He was awarded the Order of Lenin for faithfully carrying out this assassination, which was ordered by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. The 2008 DVD documentary The Soviet Story, directed by Latvian Edvin Snore, relates this and other horrific crimes of the Soviet regime, crimes that the Russian government refuses to unreservedly condemn. Incidentally, Mercader is buried under the name of Ramon Ivanovich Lopez in Moscow’s Kuntsevo Cemetery and has a place of honour in the KGB Museum of Security Service at the headquarters of the Federal Security Service.
Last June, US authorities said the Russian spy ring had been operating for at least 10 years, its members adopting false identities for the purpose of infiltrating Washington’s policy-making circles. Nine of the 10 spies are Russian born while several, intriguingly, are outspoken pro-Castro/pro-Shining Path communists. All of them pleaded guilty in US federal court and were deported to Russia in a swap that transpired in Vienna less than two weeks later.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB spy stationed in Dresden, East Germany, greeted the repatriated spies as heroes, even singing “patriotic Soviet songs” with them. Acknowledging the presence of an informer behind the exposure of the spy ring, Putin hinted that the traitor would “come to a bad end”: “The special services (SVR/FSB/KGB) live by their own laws and everyone knows what these laws are.”
Kommersant quoted an unidentified source as saying Fradkov could be sacked and the SVR folded into the powerful Federal Security Service (FSB), the main domestic successor agency of the Soviet KGB. “The damage inflicted by Shcherbakov is so enormous that a special commission should be created to analyze the reasons which allowed this complete failure to happen,” grumbled Gudkov, although he suggested that it was too early to decide whether the SVR should be merged into the FSB.
Last Friday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also confirmed that the dissolution of the Russian spy ring was the result of the defection of a senior intelligence official. During an NBC TV interview this past Saturday, US intelligence analyst David Wise surmised that Shcherbakov is most likely under FBI protection. However, US intelligence agencies have neither confirmed nor denied Russian news reports about Shcherbakov.
According to the Minsk Telegraf, Shcherbakov is really Alexander Poteev, who was born in the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and previously served in the Soviet State Security Committee (KGB). Alexander is the son of Nikolai Poteev, Hero of the Soviet Union. This was revealed by former Soviet KGB agent Fedor Yakovlev:
I’ve known him since January 1979. We studied together in the same group at ATO (advanced training of officers), better known as the “school of saboteurs,” preparing the staff for the special forces of the KGB. Also we were sent to Afghanistan in 1979 as members of “Zenit” KGB Spetsnaz group. In 1981 I again came across with him in Afghanistan in Kabul within “Cascade-2” group of KGB Special Forces. He was awarded for his participation in the hostilities within “Cascade-1” group.
After Afghanistan, he worked for KGB, then in the Foreign Intelligence Service.
A spokesman for the Belarusian KGB responded to Yakovlev’s allegations by denying that Poteev ever worked for Minsk’s security apparatus, still known by its Soviet-era name.
With a nod toward false Soviet defectors of a bygone era, espionage historian Phillip Knightley cautioned that the Kommersant story “should be viewed in the context of the smoke and mirror world of Moscow’s spy agencies.” He told Reuters: “How do we know it is not a plant to draw Western attention away from the real betrayer? Or just to sow confusion in Western spy services?” Indeed. If only more Western analysts were as perceptive as Knightley. Following the 1961 defection of KGB major Anatoliy Golitsyn, whose predictions concerning the Soviet deception strategy have proved remarkably accurate, the issue of false Soviet defectors tore apart the CIA.