Boris Karpichkov worked as a KGB agent in the 1980s before fleeing to Britain as a place of safety. He talks about his career, why Russian spies are again targeting Britain – and why he’ll never stop looking over his shoulder
Boris Karpichkov, who worked for the KGB in Latvia during the Soviet era. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
It is the perfect place to meet a man from the KGB. Boris Karpichkov – former KGB operative and double agent – suggests we meet under the shadow of Marble Arch in central London. I am late. But he is easy to spot: a gaunt, thin, pale figure with the slightly haunted look of someone who has spent their career in the twilight world of espionage.
Since fleeing to Britain in the late 1990s Karpichkov has preferred to keep a low profile – unlike another, better known Moscow agent who fled to London, one Alexander Litvinenko. Now, with the KGB’s most famous graduate, Vladimir Putin, about to get his old Kremlin job back, can Karpichkov shed light on the murky world of Russian spying?
Born in 1959 in Soviet Latvia, Karpichkov grew up in a patriotic communist family and became a mechanical engineer. The KGB approached him when he was working in a factory making parts for the aerospace industry. He enrolled at the KGB’s academy in Minsk in 1984, learning, among other things, how to shoot, and how to kill with his bare hands. He was assigned to the Riga branch of the KGB’s prestigious Second Directorate, specialising in counter-intelligence. He reached the rank of Major.