British spy turned Soviet agent George Blake celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday, living a comfortable retirement in Moscow and feted as a hero in Russia, but still seen as a traitor in Britain.
Blake was destined to spend most of his life in prison after being found guilty in the 1960s of spying for the Soviet Union, but escaped his British jail and made it to the safety of Moscow.
He has stayed ever since, marrying a Russian wife, Ida, taking the Russian name of Georgy Ivanovich, becoming a grandfather nine times over and living a quiet life in the Moscow region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin took the unusual step of congratulating Blake on his birthday, saying the British spy belonged to the “stellar cast of strong and courageous men.”
“You and your colleagues made a great contribution towards peace, ensuring security and strategic parity,” Putin said in reference to the Soviet Union’s nuclear standoff with the US during the Cold War.
The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) for its part simply titled its own message to Blake “the birthday of a legend.”
“I am a happy man, a very lucky man, exceptionally lucky,” Blake said in a rare interview last week with the Russian state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
He and Ida had a son, Misha, now a 40-year-old finance expert. Blake also had three sons with his first wife in Britain. All of Blake’s children will come to Russia to celebrate his 90th birthday.
“All this upheaval turned into a miracle. I am in touch with my grandchildren and children in England who often come here. And here I have my wife and son who are very loved,” he said.
Blake worked for the British secret service, becoming a specialist on the USSR. He began supplying secrets to the KGB in 1953 and helped reveal to his Soviet masters a tunnel that the British and US secret services were building in Berlin.
Exposed by a double agent in 1961, Blake was put on trial, accused of causing the death of several agents through his treachery and sentenced to 42 years in jail.
Yet he escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in London four years later and fled back to his masters in Moscow, a feat that has gone down as one of the greatest jailbreaks of all time.
In the Rossiyskaya Gazeta interview, Blake recalled how he had managed to spring jail with the help of released former inmates by breaking a window, climbing over the perimeter wall and getting into a waiting car.
Apparently without help from the Soviet secret services, Blake made it to East Berlin.
He appears to have enjoyed life in Russia much more than Philby, who fled to the USSR before being arrested, and whose time in Moscow many believe was scarred by drinking and depression.
“This is my character. I can adapt to anywhere where I have to live. I even got used to being in the Scrubs,” Blake said.