Moscow names square in hon­our of Philby

Nelson Mail - - Opinion -

Moscow has named a square in the city in hon­our of Bri­tish dou­ble agent Kim Philby, in a seem­ingly provoca­tive re­sponse to the Skri­pal af­fair.

Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, who is one of Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s clos­est al­lies, per­son­ally made the re­quest for an ob­scure in­ter­sec­tion in the south west of the city be re­named Kim Philby Square. The de­cree was pub­lished on Moscow city’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment web­site on Wed­nes­day.

Lo­cal res­i­dents ex­pressed as­ton­ish­ment that the junc­tion was be­ing re­named af­ter Philby, when he never lived in the neigh­bour­hood.

A city hall spokesman de­clined to com­ment on why the road junc­tion was be­ing re­named.

The name change comes just weeks af­ter the GRU, Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence unit, was ac­cused of be­ing be­hind the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of Sergei Skri­pal in Sal­is­bury in March.

Bri­tish PM Theresa May vowed to smash the GRU’s power and ac­tiv­i­ties af­ter two sus­pects were named. Rus­sia has re­peat­edly de­nied any in­volve­ment in the case.

Skri­pal, 67, was poi­soned with novi­chok nerve agent but sur­vived the at­tack along with his daugh­ter, Yu­lia, 33. He was a se­nior of­fi­cer in the GRU who was im­pris­oned in 2006 for sell­ing se­crets to MI6. He was re­leased in 2010 as part of a spy swap.

Philby is be­lieved to have been the most suc­cess­ful mem­ber of the Cam­bridge spy ring that be­trayed MI6 and pro­vided se­cret in­for­ma­tion to the Soviet Union over three decades. Philby, along with other mem­bers of the ring, was re­cruited at Cam­bridge Univer­sity in the 1930s. He died in Moscow in 1988 aged 76.

Af­ter his de­fec­tion, he lived in cen­tral Moscow, far from the windswept in­ter­sec­tion that has been named af­ter him in Yasenevo dis­trict on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal. How­ever, the square is close to the cam­pus of the SVR, Rus­sia’s For­eign In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice.

The agency has main­tained Philby’s legacy, with a page on its web­site ded­i­cated to him and the in­tel­li­gence he pro­vided dur­ing World War II.

Sergei Naryshkin, the SVR di­rec­tor, spoke at an event last year to mark the un­veil­ing of a por­trait of Philby at an art gallery in Moscow.

In­tel­li­gence vet­er­ans in at­ten­dance sug­gested that a street should be named af­ter the de­fec­tor be­cause he en­joyed walk­ing around the city.

But sev­eral res­i­dents of Yasenevo dis­trict said on a neigh­bour­hood Face­book group they had no idea who Philby was and won­dered if Moscow had run out of Rus­sian writ­ers to hon­our. ‘‘They should have named the ramp lead­ing to their cam­pus af­ter him in­stead,’’ wrote Ka­te­rina Reat­sea, re­fer­ring to the in­tel­li­gence agency.

The irony of nam­ing the junc­tion af­ter Philby will not be lost on Putin’s crit­ics. The Rus­sian pres­i­dent had pre­vi­ously called Skri­pal a ‘‘scum­bag’’ for be­tray­ing his home­land. The Krem­lin does not seem to take the same view of Philby.

– Tele­graph Group

Bri­tish spy Kim Philby.

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