At 90, Russian spy lives happily retired

Ellen Barry

The 90th birthday of a double agent from the height of the Cold War has been made the occasion for extensive celebration in Russia, with a documentary film, a rare newspaper interview stressing his happy retirement in Russia and a personal birthday greeting on Sunday from President Vladimir Putin.

The spy, George Blake, betrayed British intelligence starting in the 1950s; he was found out in 1961 and sentenced to 42 years in prison. But he escaped five years later using a ladder of rope and knitting needles, made his way to the Soviet Union and has been living out his last years serenely in a cottage outside Moscow.

His story contrasts sharply with those of other Russian moles in British intelligence from around the same time, most notably Kim Philby, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1963. Philby was said to suffer from depression and alcoholism afterward, which some said stemmed from disappointment and disillusionment with the Communist state he found there. He died in 1988.

Blake, on the other hand, has lived well and apparently happily on his Russian pension, and over the years has rebuilt his contacts with his children in England, who travelled to Moscow for Sunday's festivities.

"I am a happy person, a very lucky person, exceptionally lucky," Blake told an interviewer from Rossisskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper.

Though condemned as a traitor in Britain, where he is believed to have caused the deaths of scores of British agents, he made it clear that he is not agonising over the past.

"I do not believe in life after death," he said. "In my childhood, I wanted to become a priest, but that passed. As soon as our brain stops receiving blood, we go, and after that there will be nothing. No punishment for the bad things you did, nor rewards for the utterly wonderful."

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