Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

My Old from Friend the KGB Spy

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

My Old from Friend the KGB Spy

Article excerpt


SUNDAY evening in the Moscow suburbs. Outside everything is covered with winter snow: inside it is a scene of cosy domesticity.

The table is set for dinner, the children are playing with their toys, and in the corner a log fire crackles away. The host is busy opening a bottle of expensive foreign wine - this is, after all, a special occasion: I am calling on Yuri Sagaidak, my old friend the Russian spy.

It has been 13 years since I last saw Yuri. Back then he was supposedly the London correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda but MI5 decided there was rather more to him than that, and the Government expelled him as a spy. Yuri did a fine job of protesting his innocence, and I - young, possibly naive, eyes blinded by friendship - wasn't quite sure what to think.

This small, dapper man, who seemed to like England so much, who was such clever and amusing company whenever we met in the pub for a pint - was he really a Cold War warrior? Was he really trying to prise out our country's secrets and send them back - suitably encoded - to his KGB masters in Moscow?

But, if he wasn't, why was the Government sending him home?

If I was being honest, I would say that I suspected that Yuri may not have been all that he seemed from the moment I met him. Now, 13 years on, I know.

I know he was KGB, I know he was an officer in the political section of the Third Department of the First Chief Directorate, and I know that he retired as a Colonel in 1996.

But there are other questions to answer. What was he really up to during his two years in London? What has happened to him since? And why was he so interested in Lady Olga Maitland?

Those were the days before Lady Olga became an MP, when she was still running her CND-bashing organisation Families for Defence. Yuri met both Lady Olga and myself on the same evening, after a fringe meeting she had held at the Labour Party conference in Brighton in 1987.

He had listened to her pronouncements on disarmament with rapt interest and had afterwards gone up and introduced himself. I remember well his words to me later that night, when we went out for a drink together. "What she says is very reasonable," he said. "Very nice looking, too."

After that they became the firmest of friends. They would meet on a regular basis, for lunch or coffee, and once he even went to dinner at her house.

Occasionally he gave her presents: a painted tray or an engraving of a Russian monastery, which she still has to this day. And, all the time, she was reporting everything he said back to MI5 as they slowly amassed the evidence that would eventually get him sent home.

The Yuri who greeted me outside his office in Moscow was recognisably the same man I had interviewed in his Kensington flat the day after he got his marching orders. Plumper, better dressed and with less hair but still the same old Yuri. He is, however, much much richer.

Yuri works for Renaissance Capital, Russia's biggest investment bank. He is a deputy general director and junior partner, which means he owns shares in one of Russia's more successful businesses. It also means he earns $1,000,000 a year. Understandablyhe loves his new life. He has a new wife - a highly attractive blonde who, at 30 years old, is not only 22 years his junior but also an upandcoming lawyer, a three-year-old daughter and a house he is immensely proud of.

Look, he says, there is the swimming pool he had built, there is the new den with the table tennis table and the aquarium, there is the indoor gym - and out there, best of all, is his real English lawn. "It is," he said warmly, "the best in the neighbourhood."

HOWEVER proud he is of his new existence, Yuri showed a marked reluctance to talk about his old life. "Don't ask me about anything before 1996," he said firmly. "It is forbidden." Publicly he sticks to his story that, from the moment he arrived in London in March 1987 to his expulsion in May 1989, he was no more than a journalist. …

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