- Britain’s intelligence chief invited Russians who are upset with the Ukraine war to spy for MI6.
- Richard Moore said his agency’s door is “always open” to Russian spies and offered protection.
- Espionage has been a feature of the war, and the CIA even tried earlier this year to recruit spies.
Britain’s intelligence chief has made a proposal to Russians opposed to Moscow’s ongoing war in Ukraine: share any secrets about Moscow, and you’ll be kept safe.
During a rare public speech on Wednesday, Richard Moore, chief of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6), drew parallels between present-day Ukraine and the 1968 “Prague Spring,” a period of political liberalization and freedom movements that was ultimately crushed by a Soviet Union invasion — triggering defectors to the West.
“As they witness the venality, infighting and sheer callous incompetence of their leaders — the human factor at its worst — many Russians are wrestling with the same dilemmas and the same tugs of conscience as their predecessors did in 1968,” Moore said during an address at the British embassy in Prague.
Moore said his agency’s door is “always open” to Russian interested in turning spy, inviting them to share any sensitive information they have on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government and saying that they would join other individuals who have done the same over the past 18 months.
“We will handle their offers of help with the discretion and professionalism for which my service is famed. Their secrets will always be safe with us, and together we will work to bring the bloodshed to an end. My service lives by the principle that our loyalty to our agents is lifelong — and our gratitude eternal.”
Espionage and intelligence gathering has long been a feature of Russia’s war in Ukraine, and MI6 is not the first Western intelligence agency to try and recruit Russians. Earlier this year, the CIA even launched a Telegram channel to try and get Russians to spy for them, which eventually prompted a Russian video in response that attempted to lure American into spying for Moscow.
But Moore’s comments on Wednesday appeared to add a historical context to the Western offers, as the MI6 chief recalled how Russians who witnessed how forcefully the Soviet Union responded to the 1968 movements defected to the West. They were the “bravest,” he said, and didn’t want to be on the “wrong side of history.”
“There are many Russians today who are silently appalled by the sight of their armed forces pulverizing Ukrainian cities, expelling innocent families from their homes, and kidnapping thousands of children,” Moore said. “They are watching in horror as their soldiers ravage a kindred country. They know in their hearts that Putin’s case for attacking a fellow Slavic nation is fraudulent, a miasma of lies and fantasy.”
Indeed, Putin initially provided several baseless reasons for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, including unsubstantiated claims that Kyiv was committing genocide against ethnic Russians and that NATO was engaged in territorial provocations. His justifications have since received widespread international pushback, including from Wagner Group mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who accused Moscow of lying to the public about the war.
Russia has gone to extraordinary lengths to squash any sign of opposition to the war. Early on, there were widespread protests across the country, and some lawmakers even felt compelled to speak out. Kremlin leadership has since managed to clamp down and heavily censor dissent, although the Wagner Group’s armed rebellion last month has reportedly led to some Russians questioning Putin’s military objectives in Ukraine.