Three Bulgarians have been arrested in Britiain and accused of spying for Russia. An ex-KGB general says the Russian – Bulgarian spy axis goes back a long way.

16 August 2023 By Paul Martin


General Oleg Kalugin, former head of the KGB’s Counter-Intelligence directorate, has told Correspondent.World: “It’s no surprise to me that [Russian president] Putin’s spy agency uses Bulgarians to spy on Britain.

The three alleged spies.

“The Russian relationship with Bulgaria’s spy agency goes back a long way.

“The FSB still see Bulgarians as a support to their activities, just as they did when I was running the KGB’s First Directorate for Counter-Intelligence.

“We valued having the top echelon of the Bulgarian secret service as in effect being stooges for us.”

Gen. Kalugin said: “I was present in 1978 when the KGB leadership agreed to kill Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident based in London and working for the BBC,” he told Correspondent.World in a series of exclusive interviews in the United States, where he is now situated.

The murder request had come from Bulgaria’s president Todor Zhivkov, whose official title was General Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party. He had a particular antagonism towards Markov, 49, who had dated the president’s daughter, then jilted her. Markov’s broadcasts and writings from London against Bulgaria had also made him an enemy of the Soviet Union.

“The Bulgarian secret service, which was anyway under our control, did not have the expertise to do the job. We did.”

The head of the KGB was actually uncomfortable, Kalugin reveals. But it was thought to be politically advisable to carry out the killing, so as not to strain relations between Bulgaria and the USSR.

As Markov waited for a bus on Waterloo Bridge in September 1978 a man with an umbrella approached him. A poisoned dart from an umbrella killed Markov.

He died four days later, aged 49, leaving a wife and a two-year-old daughter.

“Kalugin went on: “Our science and technology directorate had the weapon designed and constructed in Japan. It was an umbrella that fired a small dart into Markov’s leg. I believe that department still exists.

”A KGB laboratory made the poison. It comprised a milligram of ricin placed in a capsule at the tip of the umbrella. It had been carefully constructed in Japan.

“When the assassin opened the umbrella, the poison flew off and could reach at least three metres. So Markov was pricked not actually stabbed.”

Kalugin delivering documents about his career to the Spy Museum in Washington DC — Copyright Paul Martin

 Kalugin continued: “No-one would have suspected anything more than a heart attack – except one doctor saw a strange small mark on his skin.” 

Markov’s killers were never brought to justice.

In 1993, General Kalugin was arrested in connection with the Markov murder when he flew in to London. But the Russian ambassador intervened and he was set free after an uncomfortable night in a police cell.

“Our embassy got me out of a police cell the next day and I flew back to Moscow.

“I was not the killer of Georgi Markov.

A replica of the umbrella used to kill Markov.

“All I had done was to sit at KGB headquarters with our chief.

“My department, counter-intelligence, never carried out killings. Our job was to get secret information.”

Gen. Kalugin thinks the alleged Bulgarian spies just arrested in the UK may well have been part of a sleeper cell that could have been trained to carry out another assassination, possibly again by poisoning.

The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), in charge of spying and external operations, has relied increasingly on sleepers who pose as nationals of a different country, and spend years painstakingly building up their cover.

In 2022 and this year, five other suspicious poisonings have occurred of Russians who had left their country (see below).

There is also little doubt that Alexei Navalny, the main opposition leader in Russia, was poisoned, survived, was flown to Germany, came home, was promptly arrested and now languishes in jail.

Analysts have been puzzled as to why the Russian authorities had allowed a German plane to pick up Navalny on August 20 2020 from Siberia and fly him to a Berlin hospital. He has just emerged from an induced coma.

German scientists say they have conclusively showed that Navalny had been infected with novichok – the same deadly poison used in Salisbury (southern England) on Sergei Skripal, who, many years earlier, had defected to the UK from the Soviet military intelligence, the GRU.

Gen. Kalugin rejected suggestions that Putin actually wanted the world to discover the poisoning of Navalny as a sort of grim warning to all who oppose him.

“No, it’s clear that these poisonings were all intended to kill — but without leaving any incriminating evidence. The operations against Navalny and earlier against Skripal just went wrong.

“Actually poisoning remains a common Russian security tactic, mainly because it’s not easy to uncover – and I should know,” Gen. Kalugin said.

Gen. Kalugin says he wonders if British security services had learned all the required lessons after failing to protect defector Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with highly-radioactive polonium in London in 2006.

Kalugin said: “He met with his killers more than once without MI5 intervening or giving him close protection.

“It didn’t take a genius to work out Litvinenko’s life was deeply in danger.”

Markov’s killers were never brought to justice.

Kalugin told Correspondent.World that one of his sources had tipped him off about the danger to Russia’s second-last target on British soil – the former Soviet spy-turned-democrat Alexander Litvinenko. 

“I called Litvinenko from Moscow and warned him not to make any further public accusations about Putin and his sordid private life – as they were planning to kill him if he kept speaking out.  Unfortunately, I was proved right.”

The former FSB officer who died in London in November 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.

Kalugin believes Litvinenko was killed by the FSB for disclosing what he describes as “un-comely aspects” of Putin’s private life.

He says he had warned Litvinenko about the dangers of making such details public. “I called him when he was in London and told him he shouldn’t be writing things about [Putin’s] private life,” he says. “Then he died, my warning had come too late.”

Putin has called Gen. Kalugin an American stooge. The ex-KGB official told correspondent.world: “I publicly accused Putin of being a mass murderer for waging war in Chechnya.

“I’ve also had the guts to attack Putin in a book. If I had been living in Britain instead of the US, I would have been dead long ago.”

The ex-general is also sure Putin himself, in 2018, ordered the attempted murder of the Soviet defector Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England.

General Kalugin told Correspondent.World that for decades Putin had seen Britain and European governments as a “soft touch”.

He said: “The Russians wouldn’t dare mount assassinations inside the USA, but because Europe is weak, they assess it’s possible to do it there without serious consequences.”

These days Gen. Kalugin spends most of his day listening to Russian broadcasts, making contact with influential sources, mainly in Russia, and trying to predict Putin’s next moves.

When I last met him in his Maryland home, he displayed a prized photo inside his huge intelligence library. It’s in black-and-white and shows Putin shaking hands with Josef Stalin, the murderous Soviet dictator, with various other Soviet leaders and generals looking on.

Gen. Kalugin said: “I love it.” He is planning to blow it up and then frame it.

Of course it’s not actually factual; it’s a clever photographic mock-up that Gen. Kalugin says he finds “amusing and very symbolic”.

After all, in his world of Counter-Intelligence, nothing is exactly as it seems.

He accused the Western leaders of giving Putin a “free pass”.

“These European leaders are showing him weakness, and Putin is ruthless to any person or country he considers is weak,” said the former head of the KGB’s First Directorate (Counter-Intelligence).

Kalugin in front of the Spy Museum (above) in Washington DC, the city where he started his spying career for the KGB, posing as a journalist (centre, below)

Gen. Kalugin knows a thing or two about Russia’s complex internal security structures, and about the Russian leader himself. Putin used to serve in the KGB under Gen. Kalugin when Kalugin was deputy head of the KGB’s operations in Leningrad, Putin’s home city. 

 “Putin was part of what we called the political police. He would come in plain clothes to my secretary and she would usher him in.  He would stand there respectfully and address me like this:  ‘General, please could you sign this?’

” He would never use the term Comrade Kalugin – that was for people who would speak to me who were not from the KGB.

“I must say I did not see him as being particularly talented – just one of the many junior officers.  It was the mayor of Leningrad who was a friend of Yeltsin who singled out Putin as a good reliable lackey for Boris Yeltsin, so Putin got transferred to the Kremlin in Moscow in Yeltsin’s office.”

Putin’s elevation took place at around the same time as pressures mounted on Gen. Kalugin.

“I could easily be in jail right now. I was charged in our military court with treason.  But just then I stood for parliament and candidates for parliament were exempt from prosecution until they failed to get elected. 

“I spoke out against the old system and, to my amazement, got one million two hundred thousand votes in my constituency.  So as a member of the new parliament they could not lock me up.  Later I went to the USA and never came back.”

General Kalugin takes out of a thick file of clippings. “Yeltsin says in this Russian newspaper that he [Yeltsin] had made two big mistakes in his career: One was invading Chechnya, the other was grooming Putin as his successor.  I agree with Yeltsin on that.”

Putin and Gen. Kalugin are now bitter enemies.

 “Putin is becoming more and more dangerous because he is literally getting away with murder or attempted murder,” Gen. Kalugin said from a location on America’s east coast.

“You need to understand his psyche.  He is a deeply lonely man, and hates rejection.  His family has fallen out with him.  His wife left him, and both his daughters have cut themselves off from him.”

This, says Kalugin, helps explain why Putin plans to cling on to power for at least ten more years.   

General Kalugin was arrested in connection with the Markov murder years later when he flew in to London. But the Russian ambassador intervened and he was set free after a night in a police cell.

“Our embassy got me out of a police cell the next day and I flew back to Moscow. I was not the killer of Georgi Markov.”

A replica of the umbrella used to kill Markov.

“All I had done was to sit at KGB headquarters in 1978 with our chief Yuri Andropov [later Soviet Union President] and his deputy. It was his decision – at the Bulgarian president’s request.”

“The Bulgarian secret service, which was anyway under our control, did not have the expertise to do the job. We did.

“My department, counter-intelligence, never carried out killings. Our job was to get secret information.”

He went on: “Our science and technology directorate had the weapon designed and constructed in Japan. It was an umbrella that fired a small dart into Markov’s leg. I believe that department still exists within Russia’s current security services.”

Kalugin told Correspondent.World that one of his sources had tipped him off about the Russia’s second-last target on British soil – the former Soviet spy-turned-democrat Alexander Litvinenko, and again after failing to protect defector Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with highly-radioactive polonium in London in 2006. Kalugin said: “It’s shocking that Litvinenko met with his killers more than once without MI5 intervening or giving him close protection.

“It didn’t take a genius to work out Litvinenko’s life was deeply in danger.”

Putin has called Gen. Kalugin an American stooge. The ex-KGB General told correspondent.world: “I publicly accused Putin of being a mass murderer for waging war in Chechnya.

“I’ve also had the guts to attack Putin in a book. If I had been living in Britain instead of the US, I would have been dead long ago.”

Kalugin believes Putin could order more assassinations or poisonings against opponents  – whether in Europe or inside his own country – unless European governments hit back against Russia’s latest assassination attempt with tough measures.

General Kalugin told Correspondent.world that the president saw Britain and European governments as a “soft touch”.

He said: “The Russians wouldn’t dare mount assassinations inside the USA, but because Europe is weak, they assess it’s possible to do it there without serious consequences.”

Gen. Kalugin these days spends most of his day listening to Russian broadcasts, making contact with influential sources, mainly in Russia, and try to predict Putin’s next moves.

He displays a prized photo his huge counter-intelligence library in Maryland. It’s in black-and-white and shows Putin shaking hands with Josef Stalin, the murderous Soviet dictator, with various other Soviet leaders and generals looking on. Gen. Kalugin says: “I love it.” He is planning to blow it up and then frame it.

Of course it’s not actually factual; it’s a clever photographic mock-up that Gen. Kalugin says he finds “amusing and very symbolic”. After all, in his world of intelligence and counter-intelligence, nothing is absolutely as it seems.

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