Relations between the UK and Russia have been tense over 100 years, but recent developments have marked a new phase as Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s invasion of Ukraine left Moscow isolated. Britain has more than once been victim of what are said to have been Kremlin-authorised attacks: the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and the 2018 Salisbury poisoning just two of many covert operations within the UK’s borders. Many now worry about how Russia could target the UK for crippling sanctions and outright condemnation of the Russian leader and state.
In an interview with Express.co.uk, former KGB spy, Jack Barsky, said the UK has always been a “huge target” for Russian espionage, and that the Kremlin could even have ears inside Britain’s most important establishments.
Asked if Putin could have a presence in the halls of power in the UK or US, he reflected: “You can’t exclude it because there’s always a possibility. To penetrate government from the outside at a very high level is difficult, if not impossible.
“Russian intelligence is significantly weaker than it was with the KGB in regards to acts of espionage, but there’s two things Russia does now which have improved from the KGB days.
“One is active measures, sowing discord in any target country by spreading fake news.
“The second one is the means of sowing discord. Nowadays, with social media, they have been very effective at making the rift in the US a lot wider.
“When I’m doing public appearances, people ask me how many Russian agents do you think are in US government, and I say, ‘More than you think.'”
Asked if this also applies to the UK, he added: “Absolutely, why not? The focus is always on the US but the UK has always been a huge target for Russian espionage.”
Mr Barsky explained that Russia uses its security services to wage informational war on countries, ultimately aiming to undermine democracy.
He said: “We are talking about trying to destabilise countries. They try to create doubt about the functioning of democracy. A weak US and UK is very important [to Russia].”
Mr Barsky’s time with the KGB spanned from 1973 to 1988, the same period in which the likes of Putin and many of his inner circle, his siloviki, were also a part of the KGB.
He was approached while he was at university in Germany and later moved to the US to work there as a sleeper agent.
He spent his time in the US trying to get close to security advisers to the White House, tracking Soviet defectors and looking for KGB recruits.
Mr Barsky even led a double life – he had one wife and daughter in the US and a wife and son in Germany.
In 1988, the Soviets believed Mr Barsky’s cover had been blown and tried to get him back to Moscow, but he refused to leave.
A decade later, the FBI caught Mr Barsky on tape admitting he was a spy.
He was arrested, and later provided counter-intelligence for the US.
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Today, he does the rounds as a public speaker and gives interviews about life in the KGB, as well as having written a book, Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America.
Asked how he looks back on his time with Russian security services, Mr Barksy said: “Regretting it would be intellectually dishonest, because I joined the KGB knowing that I was going to do that work.
“The regrets I have is that I did damage to my family. But I’m also incredibly grateful for the person who betrayed me and got the information on me to the FBI.
“Because I had the opportunity to research and learn the truth as I know it now.
“Also, I had a dual personality. But now I have reunited the two and become whole.”