George Blake, last in line of Cold War spies who betrayed Britain, dies at 98

By Timothy Heritage and Polina Ivanova
LONDON / MOSCOW (Reuters) - George Blake, who died in Russia on Saturday aged 98, was the last in a line of British spies whose clandestine work for the Soviet Union humiliated the intelligence company when it was discovered at the height of the cold War.
Britain says he uncovered the identities of hundreds of Western agents across Eastern Europe in the 1950s, some of whom were executed for his betrayal.
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His case was one of the most notorious of the Cold War, alongside that of a separate ring of British double agents known as the Cambridge Five.
Blake was exposed as a Soviet spy in 1961 and sentenced to 42 years in London at Wormwood Scrubs. In a classic cloak and dagger tale, he escaped with the help of other inmates and two peace activists in 1966 and was smuggled out of the UK in a motor home. He made it through Western Europe undiscovered and crossed the Iron Curtain to East Berlin.
He spent the rest of his life in the Soviet Union and then Russia, where he was hailed as a hero.
Blake reflected on his life in a 1991 interview with Reuters in Moscow and said he believed the world was on the eve of communism.
"It was an ideal that, if it had been achieved, would have been worth it," he said.
“I thought it could be, and I did what I could to help build such a society. It hasn't proven possible. But I think it's a noble idea and I think humanity will care Come back."
In a message of condolences published by the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Blake was an expert of particular vitality and courage who made an invaluable contribution to global strategic parity and peace.
"The memory of this legendary person will stay in our hearts forever," he wrote.
Blake was born on November 11, 1922 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to a Dutch mother and an Egyptian-Jewish father who was a naturalized British citizen.
He fled the Netherlands during World War II after joining the Dutch Resistance as a courier and arrived in Great Britain in January 1943. After joining the British Navy in 1944, he began working for the British secret service MI6.
After the war, Blake briefly served in the German city of Hamburg and studied Russian at Cambridge University before being sent to Seoul in 1948, where he gathered information on communist North Korea, communist China and the Soviet Far East.
He was captured and imprisoned when North Korean troops took Seoul after the Korean War began in 1950. During his time in a North Korean prison, he became a committed communist, read the works of Karl Marx and was outraged by heavy US bombing raids on North Korea.
After his release in 1953, he returned to the UK and was sent to Berlin by MI6 in 1955, where he gathered information about Soviet spies, but also passed secrets about British and US operations to Moscow.
"I met a Soviet comrade about once a month," he said in an interview published in 2012 by the Russian government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Blake described how he had traveled to the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin on a rail link connecting different parts of the divided city for these meetings. His contact would be waiting for him in a car and they would go to a safe house.
"I handed over films and we talked. Sometimes we had a glass of Tsimlyansk champagne (Soviet sparkling wine)."
Blake was eventually exposed by a Polish defector and taken to the UK, where he was convicted and imprisoned.
When he fled Wormwood Scrubs, he left behind his wife, Gillian, and three children. After Gillian divorced him, Blake married a Soviet woman, Ida, with whom he had a son, Misha. He worked at a foreign affairs institute before retiring with her to a dacha or country house outside Moscow.
Blake, known by the Russian name Georgy Ivanovich, was awarded a medal by Putin in 2007 and held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the former KGB security service, from which he received a pension.
"These are the happiest and most peaceful years of my life," said Blake in an interview in 2012 on the occasion of his 90th birthday. By then, he said, his eyesight was failing and he was "practically blind". He didn't regret his past.
"When I look back on my life, everything seems logical and natural," he said, describing himself as happy and happy.
Despite working separately from the Cambridge Five - a spy ring of former Cambridge students who passed information on to the Soviet Union - Blake said that during his retirement he met two of them, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby.
He remembered drinking martinis, the preferred cocktail of fictional British spy James Bond, with Philby, but said he was closer to Maclean.
Maclean died in Russia in 1983 and Philby in 1988. Of the remaining Cambridge Five, Guy Burgess died in Russia in 1963 and Anthony Blunt in London in 1983.
John Cairncross, the last to be publicly identified by investigative journalists and former Soviet intelligence officers, died in England in 1995.
(Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan; writing by Timothy Heritage; editing by Pravin Char)
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