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How Ukraine’s Post Office chief is ‘stamping down’ on the Russian invaders.

Exclusive: from Kyiv, Ukraine

Amid the images of destruction inflicted by continued Russian attacks on a sovereign nation, Ukrainian television showed far less grim pictures this week. People were smiling — generally very happy to be queuing up in the streets again.

Thousands of eager locals stood since the very early hours at post offices around the country to collect a very precious commodity in the afternoon: stamps. They’re limited to two sets of six, and two special envelopes. 

So great has the demand been that in the capital Kyiv they’re being advised to come back for a third day, on Friday.

The country’s Postal Chief is Igor Smelyansky, a genial man oozing enthusiasm, whose father and mother are Jews from Odessa.  He believes his stamps are playing a vital role in raising the fighting spirit of his embattled nation. 

His original stamp was based on a radio signal reportedly sent at the start of this war to a Russian warship, rejecting its demand for a small group of Ukrainian marines defending a strategic island in the Black Sea to surrender.  A marine radioed back: “Russian warship go f–k yourself!”  The indelicate phrase, and its message of defiance, went viral across Ukraine and beyond.  

Smelyansky had the brainwave to create a stamp rejoicing in the Ukrainian marines’ defiance in the face of impossible odds. Two days after that stamp was issued, the Russians’ biggest Black Sea ship sank.

 Smelyansky, who spent years in New York’s Wall Street arranging company mergers before returning to Ukraine, has now put on sale a new witty propaganda brainchild: new stamps reflecting the ship’s demise.

“I feel there’s some eerie spiritual power from our stamps that helped the ship go down – or at least predicted it.”

One of the two new stamps showing the ill-fated ship, now carries a one-word statement in English: ‘Done!’ 

That new stamp was officially put on sale to the public –with a million printed and four million to follow — on May 23. Beforehand, in a filmed ceremony inside the presidential bunker, Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky signed and franked the stamp, alongside Smelyansky and the Navy chief.

“Not just because of our special stamps, the Russians would love to bomb my Post Office HQ right here, “said Smelyansky.  “We’re just opposite Independence Square, where pro-Russian leaders were toppled in 2004 and 2013.” 

He says he also kept the place where the stamps would be printed a closely guarded secret, to prevent Russian missile or rocket attacks on it.

Smelyansky set aside a number of first editions to auction online – though the auction  crashed after a few minutes.  He thinks the Russians flooded the sale to disrupt it. 

“The money we now raise will go to rebuilding schools that the Russians have destroyed in their so-called special military operation,” Smelyansky told me. “And to help animals left alone in areas where their owners were forced to flee or died in Russian attacks.”

  On the day of the new stamps’ release, long queues of people determined to get their hands on a maximum of 12 stamps and three special envelopes.  Each envelope was then stamped with a tilting ship in black, or with the name of an occupied part of Ukraine – like Crimea, as if it were posted from there. Even when a warning siren sounded in some locations, “most refused to ‘abandon ship’ to rush to shelters or basements,” Smelyansky said.

In the queue I joined there was pushing and shoving and raised voices from some who believed they should get priority.  But in general people were thrilled – especially when after 7 pm Smelyansky himself came out from the Post Office and signed his name personally on each envelope thrust towards him.  The signing lasted a full three hours, while his military bodyguard was getting more and more nervous.

Finally back in his office, Smelyansky told me he has personally driven an orange-and-white postal van into previously Russian-occupied and Russian-terrorised towns like Bucha and Irpin.

“One woman there who recognised me demanded: ‘Please get me my pension’.  Two days later, it was delivered. That’s what makes it all so worthwhile for me – the impact I can have on people’s lives in an otherwise dire situation.”

All over the country letters and parcels are arriving – and pensions are being picked up at Post Offices — despite wartime roadblocks and Russian attacks. “It gives people a vital lifeline, and even a letter brings a feeling that people have not been forgotten – a sense of stability, as far as it can be,” Smelyansky said.

His vans have even managed to cross into Russian-occupied territory.  Over a hundred post offices were, he said, open in the city of Kherson, a Russian-held port in the south. But the Russians were not allowing letter and parcels in and out – though mainly they did allow supplies of money to pay people their pensions.

Early on in the war one of his clearly marked blue-and-yellow vans was struck by a Russian rocket, killing two of his employees.  Yet he still himself drives a van to dangerous spots – last weekend he was close to the Russian frontlines inside eastern Ukraine.  

Where now?  Smelyansky says he had been planning to make millions of postage stamps showing Vladimir Putin in chains or being dragged away by Ukrainian police, or worse – in the hope that this would somehow bring about or at least predict the Russian leader’s destruction – “just as the Moskva sank, perhaps by some eerie coincidence, two days after we issued the first stamp, could we sink Putin by showing him on a stamp, being dragged away in chains?”  

However Smelyansky was astonished that the 650 thousand people who voted for the next big stamp idea rejected the Putin demise as the theme – giving far more votes to featuring a new media-star:  a de-mining dog called Patron.

Smelyansky says he has taken some decision in trying to revitalise the state institution that made people “hate me – because I’ve done away with some local post offices and introduced many mobile post offices.  Now people are writing to me saying the used to hate me, but they can see how these mobile post offices are giving remote or bombed areas a new lease of life.”

One activity that Smelyansky says brought him most satisfaction was, he says, to get dog kennels and dog clothing delivered from hard-pressed Kharkiv to the UK and USA.  “So I helped keep six families in work – and that’s replicated all over Ukraine.”

Another satisfying success was when, in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine, they sneaked money to a bakery, which gave the cash from sales of bread to the local post office officials, who transformed the money into vitally needed pension payments.

 “My mother and both her parents were top doctors in Odessa, and of course, like many Jewish parents, they had wanted me to become a doctor too.  I hope now though they can forgive me for my ‘failure’.  I’m also doing some lifesaving work.  All I long for now is a holiday with my wife and teenage kids – on a beach somewhere, when this war is over.”

He says most Ukrainian Jews during the Communist era were ‘agnostic’, including his Jewish parents.  “I remain agnostic,” he declares, even though his non-Jewish wife is a believer.  “I respect genuine religion, but not fake hypocrites who go to church like Putin.

 “Anyway,” he quips, “I’ve delegated religion – to my wife.”

Smelyansky says he has had several close shaves in life — the biggest in the USA. When working there he declined to return to a job offered to him by Cantor FitzGerald on the 101st floor of the World Trade Centre  – just two months before the 9-11 attacks killed everyone in that office. ” All you can do is your best, and accept your fate,” he added.

Interview over, I slipped back to my hotel miles away, having to break the 11pm curfew. Smelyansky stayed on in his office – no doubt devising new ways to stamp his unconventional mark on Ukraine’s war effort.

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Eliminate Russian names from our streets, says Ukraine’s president.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on cities, towns and villages across Ukraine to rename streets and squares to get rid of all references to Russia and to its Communist or Soviet past.


Renaming streets and squares began some years back, but that was aimed at the territory’s Communist past as part of the Soviet Union.   

This week the Kyiv City Council decided to “de-communise” a huge city landmark, the Arch of the Peoples’ Friendship — which refers to the supposedly close relationship between the Ukrainian and Russian peoples.


“Now it is the Arch of Freedom of the Ukrainian people,”  the capital city’s mayor, former world champion heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko, wrote on his social media channel.

At the same time, he said the deputies also approved a list of more than 40 monuments and memorial signs that would be removed from the streets and buildings of the capital and transferred to the Museum of Totalitarianism.

 When I drove last week through Lenin Square in Chornomorsk, a port town south-west of Odessa, I found it had been renamed, and the statue of the founder of the Soviet Communist state had been replaced — by a grey lamp-post.

Zelensky, who is Jewish, urged towns and villages to rename streets and squares after righteous Ukrainians who had saved persecuted Jews during World War II.

He made no mention of the atrocities conducted by Ukrainian soldiers or paramilitaries against Jews in that World War — just as he had avoided doing so during his live video-linked speech from Kyiv to the Knesset in March.  That omission, and his apparent comparison of Russia’s current behaviour with the Holocaust, were criticised extensively by Israeli political and religious leaders.

However, Ukrainians have expressed bewilderment that Israel, a state founded as a haven for the persecuted, has not been more supportive of its military needs.

“My advice is to turn to the stories of the Ukrainian Righteous and perpetuate their memory,” Zelensky said in a social media post highlighting a new public holiday, launched last year to commemorate the Righteous.

He said the renaming should take place “because it’s about the courage and humanity of Ukrainians who have already proved that the evil that comes to our land will inevitably lose.”

He said the bravery of people who hid or supported Jews during World War II was now being echoed by many Ukrainians who have taken massive risks in protecting civilians from Russian attack.

Zelensky noted that 2659 Ukrainian men and women had received the title of Righteous Among the Nations, which he said was the 4th highest number of any nation.

He added: “[These were] people who risked their lives, the lives of their loved ones, but still saved those who were threatened with imminent death at the hands of the Nazis. Rescued children, adults, whole families.”
Zelensky said some children who were rescued were too young to know who helped them, adding: “We do not know all the stories of salvation.”
He drew a parallel with Ukraine’s current tenacious fight to avoid domination.

“There was total evil around, and people still kept good in their hearts. It strengthens our belief that humanity will still win [here] despite the occupation and the power of the Nazis [at that time].”


The president ended his comment with the by-now-familiar declaration: “Eternal glory to all our defenders! Eternal memory to all who gave lives for Ukraine! Glory to Ukraine!”


……………………..Below is the comment Z made:

President Zelensky, 14 May 2022

Wise people of our bravest country!

All our defenders!

Last year, on May 14, the Day of Remembrance of Ukrainians who saved Jews during World War II was celebrated in our country for the first time. 2659 Ukrainian men and women received the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Our country is the fourth in the world in the number of the Righteous. People who risked their lives, the lives of their loved ones, but still saved those who were threatened with imminent death at the hands of the Nazis. Rescued children, adults, whole families.

Each of these rescue stories is impressive. It strikes with courage, because there was total evil around, and people still kept good in their hearts. It strikes with belief that humanity will still win despite the then occupation and the power of the Nazis.

The Righteous were in all regions of our state – from Zakarpattia to Crimea, from Odesa to Kharkiv. And we do not know all the stories of salvation. There were many who simply did not have time to tell thanks to whom their life was saved. They also rescued very young children who simply could not understand what was really happening to them.

We must always remember that our people have such Righteous among them and that even in the darkest circumstances there are people who carry light. This is exactly the same striving for good that we see today in Ukrainian men and women who help save people from the occupiers, from the same Nazis.

I am grateful to all journalists and just all caring people who document modern stories of salvation and record for all generations of our people what Ukraine has to go through and how people show their best qualities by saving others – acquaintances and strangers, relatives, children, adults.

I held talks today with a delegation of US senators led by Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitchell McConnell in Kyiv. I believe that this visit once again demonstrates the strength of bipartisan support for our state, and the strength of ties between the Ukrainian and American nations.

We discussed various areas of support for our state, including defensive and financial. As well as tightening sanctions on Russia. I expressed gratitude for the historic decision to renew the Lend-Lease program. I called for the official recognition of Russia as a terrorist state.

One of the issues I deal with on a daily basis is food security. More and more countries around the world are realizing that Russia, by blocking the Black Sea for us and continuing this war, puts dozens of other countries at risk of a price crisis in the food market and even famine. This is another incentive for our anti-war coalition to act more decisively together.

Now support for Ukraine – and especially with weapons – means working to prevent global famine. The sooner we liberate our land and guarantee Ukraine’s security, the sooner the normal state of the food market can be restored.

The situation in Donbas remains very difficult. Russian troops are still trying to show at least some victory. On the 80th day of the full-scale invasion, it looks especially insane, but they do not stop all these efforts.

I am grateful to everyone who holds the line and brings closer to Donbas, Pryazovia and Kherson the same thing that is happening now in the Kharkiv region. Step by step we are forcing the occupiers to leave our land. We will make them leave the Ukrainian sea as well.

By the way, now in many cities and communities of Ukraine there are discussions about renaming streets and squares. My advice is to turn to the stories of the Ukrainian Righteous and perpetuate their memory. Because it is about the courage and humanity of Ukrainians who have already proved that the evil that comes to our land will inevitably lose.

Eternal glory to all our defenders! Eternal memory to all who gave lives for Ukraine! Glory to Ukraine!

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Butchery at Bucha. An aid worker brings crucial help.

Exclusiv, from Bucha, Ukraine.

Oleksii Tolkachov, 39, is delivering aid to people without food, electricity and heating in Bucha and Irpin, the until-recently Russian-occupied satellite towns north of Kyiv.  They are both now ignominious worldwide symbols of the invaders’ ruthless destruction.   Before we drive in, we pull up at the first of several destroyed tanks.  

It’s a Soviet-made T-72. “Both Ukraine’s army and these Russians use this model,” says Oleksii, “but we know this was a Russian tank because of the V’s painted on it.”  The letters V and Z were used on the invading army’s war machines as they rolled in toward Kyiv from the north, but the Russian forces met stiff resistance. Just behind the tank, 48-year-old Oleksandr is sifting through what remains of his house, which he says was smashed by a tank battle. “Look on the bright side,” he quips. “I’ve only got half a house so the heating bills next winter will be cheaper.”

Oleksandr declines any aid package, saying others more needy should get it.

Further down the road a few locals are clambering over the hulks and gun-barrels of five destroyed Russian tanks, peering inside at charred remains of men and materiel.  The mundane debris remains of those fleeing the burning tanks: boots, military jackets, an electric razor-top.  Inside one tank we see, , alongside a charred corpse, a burnt-out mobile smartphone, almost certainly stolen from an inhabitant of the villages or towns the invaders captured.  (Locals say the Russians, often from poor rural parts, were amazed at and jealous of the ‘luxurious’ lifestyle they encountered in northern Ukraine, and seized anything they could.)

Inside Bucha itself, the bodies of local civilians whose pictures had became infamous just after the Russians pulled out, no longer lie in the street.  But there are several ruined tanks still lining Rail Station Road.  We watch Ukrainian heavy-lifting trucks pulling them up, ready to cart them away for use as scrap metal. 

Clearly locals, or Ukrainian soldiers, believed the invaders of Bucha were ethnically Chechens, from a unit that had become ultra-loyal to the Russians despite Chechen rebels’ own largely-failed battles for independence.  “ Kadyrov is Evil”, using the name of its notorious commander and Putin loyalist, is painted in white on the side of one destroyed tank. 

Oleksii draws up alongside people cooking borsht (beetroot-and cabbage-and potato soup) on an open fire outside their apartment block.  A 5-year-old girl rides alongside on a black-and-white bike with trainer wheels. Oleksii offers her a red-wrapped bar of chocolate – which she refuses.  “I like chocolate, but not this — another kind!” she declares.

The Russian invasion here left thousands to shelter in basements while temperatures were minus ten centigrade and electricity, water and gas were cut.

At the apartment block’s entrance, windows had been shattered “for fun” by the invaders’ gunfire, and a secure door had been riddled with bullet-holes.  In Apartment one Oleksii  is revisiting 83-year-old Ludmila Yurina. She is wrapped in thick coats and wears a maroon headscarf, but is still shivering. When the Russian attack started her son fled to Kyiv and has disappeared.  Alone, and only able to move by wheelchair, she could not shelter in the communal basement. During all the shelling and bombing, she was lodged in the corner of her main room.

When the attacks began, her neighbour two doors down, a 33-year-old actress called Nadia Samokhvalova, was in Kyiv but she returned the moment she heard the Russians had pulled out.

  “Ludmila is like my grandmother,” says Nadia. “I was really worried about her life.  I rushed over here to bring her food and medicines.” 

She sees a silver lining in her new circumstances. “As an actress I have no work in a war situation.  But I can help people.”  From posts on her Facebook account, she’s raised about 5,000 pounds – “that’s huge here, enough to buy a small car.  With the money I buy food and medicine and help whoever I can.”

She says a bitter legacy has been left from the Russian actions here and throughout Ukraine.   

“It was really terrible.  All Ukrainians now will hate them for many years in the future,” Nadia says.

At a nearby house, it’s too late to bring help, Oleksii tell me.  Locals tell him that the house owner and his 15-year-old grandson were shot dead because the teenager took photos of Russian soldiers on a smartphone. The grandfather’s shoes lie alongside a shallow grave. Local authorities have already dug up collected bodies to check for war crimes and then to provide more proper burials.

Cars wrecked by Russian tanks, one with the driver inside, litter the roads, and an abandoned vehicle has a V painted on it. That indicates Russian or Chechen soldiers stole it for a joyride – a champagne cork lies on the front seat.

Ironically, as we leave Bucha, we see a sign near the undamaged rail station advertising a nearby pizza parlour – now clearly unavailable.   An apartment block in nearby Irpin is blackened and shell-pocked, but still bears a red banner declaring: “Apartments for Sale”.

Oleksii vows he’ll be back to support those who still need his aid, physical and emotional. 

On the way back to Kyiv is a mud field with a series of rectangular cardboards on stakes.  One of them simply states: “ April 09 2022, and, in Russian,  ‘Ostanki’. It means: Remains.   

He or she was another unknown victim of this senseless war.

NOTE:

Since our visit, electricity and heating has been restored though water is intermittent.  Oleksii, like all Ukrainians, increasingly struggles to buy petrol to drive his relief vans to where they are needed.  All the people he has been looked after say they are doing well.  Nadia is still unable to resume her acting career – no theatres are open.

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World Exclusive.

Gen. Oleg Kalugin displays a prized photo from his huge counter-intelligence library in Maryland. It’s in black-and-white and shows Putin shaking hands with Josef Stalin, the murderous Soviet dictator, with various other Soviet leaders and generals looking on. Gen. Kalugin says: “I love it.” He is planning to enlarge it and then frame it.

Photo copyright Paul Martin

Of course it’s not actually factual; it’s a clever photographic mock-up that Gen. Kalugin says he finds “amusing and very symbolic”.

After all, in his world of Counter-Intelligence, nothing is absolutely as it seems.


Kalugin was one of the Soviet Union’s top ex-KGB officers. These days he spends most of his day listening from the US east coast to Russian broadcasts, making contact with influential sources, mainly in Russia, and trying to predict Putin’s next moves.

He says he expects Russian leader Vladimir Putin to order a series assassinations or poisonings in Europe once it has taken control of Ukraine and  Russia has been made into a pariah state.   

General Kalugin told me that, because NATO had not intervened directly inside Ukraine, Putin had continued to see Britain and European governments as a “soft touch”.

“The Russians wouldn’t dare mount assassinations inside the USA, but because Europe is weak, they assess it’s possible to do it there without serious consequences,” he said.

Gen. Kalugin, who was Putin’s boss when the general was in charge of the KGB in Leningrad,  these days spends most of his time listening to Russian broadcasts, making contact with influential sources, mainly in Russia. He feels he can predict Putin’s next moves.

“You need to understand his psyche.  He is a deeply lonely man, and hates rejection.  His family has fallen out with him.  His wife left him, and both his daughters have cut themselves off from him.”

Kalugin said he believes Putin has some deeper personal secrets that drive him to act aggressively.  “I was reliably informed that he has homosexual relations, and has done so since his training days as a young KGB cadet.  He is really not interested in women, even though he creates a image of being a macho heterosexual and has had two children.  It’s all a façade.”

Kalugin produced no evidence to back these claims of homosexuality, but suggested we talk to his ex-wife.

He agrees with psychological assessments, made by the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, that Putin has “delusions of grandeur. and massive megalomania.”

The general said: “Putin is a dangerous man in many ways — for the world and for the Russians themselves.”

He attributes Putin’s aggression as stemming from his low-level KGB standing until he was co-opted into President Boris Yeltsin’s office, and then rose to power as Yeltsin’s surprise successor.  That’s what happens to people who jump from nowhere into the sky and look down, and believe that all must obey his orders.  He has spent two decades consolidating his power and control. That’s him.”

The general is sure Putin will “try his best to install a pro-Russian puppet regime.  But that will only whet his appetite for more.”   This, says Kalugin, helps explain why Putin plans to cling on to power indefinitely.   

He rejects the ideas that Putin may faced internal opposition as sanctions bite.  “Putin is in full control of all the Russian security services and the Orthodox Church, the two main pillars of power in Russia,”   

Kalugin told me he world he still has some high-level sources inside the Kremlin.  Years ago, one of these sources had tipped him off about the Russian’s second-last target on British soil – the former Soviet spy Alexander Litvinenko. 

“I called Litvinenko from Moscow and warned him not to make any further public accusations about Putin and his sordid private life – as they were planning to kill him if he kept speaking out.  About six months later, unfortunately, I was proved right.”

Analysts have been puzzled as to why the Russian authorities had allowed a German plane to pick up Alexei Navalny on August 20 2020 from Siberia and fly him to a Berlin hospital. He has just emerged from an induced coma.

“Actually poisoning is a common Russian security tactic, mainly because it’s not easy to uncover – and I should know,” Gen. Kalugin said. “I was present when the KGB leadership agreed to kill Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident based in London and working for the BBC,” he told me.

In an exclusive interview from a hideout in the USA, urged Johnson and other European heads of government to take “tough measures” against Putin – or else the Russian leader will. He accused Western leaders of giving Putin a “free pass” through their many years of weak responses.

“These European leaders are showing him weakness, and Putin is ruthless to any person or country he considers is weak,” said the former head of the KGB’s First Directorate (Counter-Intelligence). “Putin is as ugly now in political actions as he was years ago.”

“Putin should be personally isolated – banned from coming to Europe or anywhere in the West, and any international summits – until he admits his crimes and apologises.  Of course he is too arrogant to do that. 

“That sort of ban would hit him hard personally.

“Breaking diplomatic relations with Russia by Britain, and other European countries would be the next step,” Kalugin suggested.

“When the Russians see Putin has shamed Russia and turned the motherland into a pariah state, this will ruin his reputation inside the country,” Kalugin said.

“Of course he will go on rigging elections, but pressure on him will have an effect.”

Kalugin in front of the Spy Museum (above) in Washington DC, the city where he started his spying career for the KGB, posing as a journalist (below). Photo copyright Paul Martin

Gen. Kalugin, 85, knows a thing or two about Russia’s complex internal security structures, and about the Russian leader himself. Putin used to serve in the KGB under Gen. Kalugin when Kalugin was deputy head of the KGB’s operations in Leningrad, Putin’s home city. 

 “Putin was part of what we called the political police..  

“Putin would come in plain clothes to my secretary and she would usher him in.  He would stand there respectfully and address me like this:  ‘General, please could you sign this?’

” He would never use the term Comrade Kalugin – that was for people who would speak to me who were not from the KGB.

“I must say I did not see him as being particularly talented – just one of the many junior officers.  It was the mayor of Leningrad who was a friend of Yeltsin who singled out Putin as a good reliable lackey for Boris Yeltsin, so Putin got transferred to the Kremlin in Moscow in Yeltsin’s office.”

Putin’s elevation took place at around the same time as pressures mounted on Gen. Kalugin.

“I could easily be in jail right now. I was charged in our military court with treason.  But just then I stood for parliament and candidates for parliament were exempt from prosecution until they failed to get elected. 

“I spoke out against the old system and, to my amazement, got one million two hundred thousand votes in my constituency.  So as a member of the new parliament they could not lock me up.  Later I went to the USA and never came back.”

After he retired Yeltsin said in a Russian newspaper that General Kalugin takes out of a thick file of clippings. “Yeltsin says that he (Yeltsin) had made two big mistakes in his career: One was invading Chechnya, the other was grooming Putin as his successor.  I agree with Yeltsin on that.”

Putin and Gen. Kalugin are now bitter enemies.

 “Putin is becoming more and more dangerous because he is literally getting away with murder or attempted murder,” Gen. Kalugin said from a location on America’s east coast.

“To appreciate why a ban on him would have a strong effect, you need to understand his psyche.  He is a deeply lonely man, and hates rejection.  His family has fallen out with him.  His wife left him, and both his daughters have cut themselves off from him.”

This, says Kalugin, helps explain why Putin plans to cling on to power for at least ten more years.   

“Putin is in full control of all the Russian security services and the order to kill Navalny must have come directly from him.”

Kalugin told correspondent.world he still has some high-level sources inside the Kremlin.  One of these sources had tipped him off about the Russian’s second-last target on British soil – the former Soviet spy Alexander Litvinenko. 

“I called Litvinenko from Moscow and warned him not to make any further public accusations about Putin and his sordid private life – as they were planning to kill him if he kept speaking out.  About six months later, unfortunately, I was proved right.”

Analysts have been puzzled as to why the Russian authorities had allowed a German plane to pick up Alexei Navalny on August 20 2020 from Siberia and fly him to a Berlin hospital. He has just emerged from an induced coma.

German scientists say they have conclusively showed that Navalny had been infected with novichok – the same deadly poison used in Salisbury (southern England) on Sergei Skripal, who, many years earlier, had defected to the UK from the Soviet military intelligence, the GRU.

Gen Kalugin rejected suggestions that Putin actually wanted the world to discover the poisoning of Navalny as a sort of grim warning to all who oppose him.

“No, it’s clear that these poisonings were all intended to kill — but without leaving any incriminating evidence. The operations against Navalny and earlier against Skripal just went wrong.

“Actually poisoning is a common Russian security tactic, mainly because it’s not easy to uncover – and I should know,” Gen. Kalugin said. “I was present when the KGB leadership agreed to kill Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian dissident based in London and working for the BBC,” he told correspondent.world.

“A poisoned dart from an umbrella killed him on London Bridge.  And no-one would have suspected anything more than a heart attack – except one doctor saw a strange small mark on his skin.” 

General Kalugin was arrested in connection with the Markov murder years later when he flew in to London. But the Russian ambassador intervened and he was set free after a night in a police cell.

“Our embassy got me out of a police cell the next day and I flew back to Moscow. I was not the killer of Georgi Markov.”A replica of the umbrella used to kill Markov.

“All I had done was to sit at KGB headquarters in 1978 with our chief Yuri Andropov [later Soviet Union President] and his deputy. It was his decision – at the Bulgarian president’s request.”

[“The Bulgarian secret service, which was anyway under our control, did not have the expertise to do the job. We did.]

“My department, counter-intelligence, never carried out killings. Our job was to get secret information.”

He went on: “Our science and technology directorate had the weapon designed and constructed in Japan. It was an umbrella that fired a small dart into Markov’s leg. I believe that department still exists.”

He said British security services should have learned lessons after failing to protect defector Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with highly-radioactive polonium in London in 2006. Kalugin said: “He met with his killers more than once without MI5 intervening or giving him close protection.

“It didn’t take a genius to work out Litvinenko’s life was deeply in danger.”

Putin has called Gen. Kalugin an American stooge. The ex-KGB official told correspondent.world: “I publicly accused Putin of being a mass murderer for waging war in Chechnya.

“I’ve also had the guts to attack Putin in a book. If I had been living in Britain instead of the US, I would have been dead long ago.”

Kalugin believes Putin could order more assassinations or poisonings against opponents  – whether in Europe or inside his own country – unless European governments hit back against Russia’s latest assassination attempt with tough measures.

General Kalugin told Correspondent.world that the president saw Britain and European governments as a “soft touch”.

He said: “The Russians wouldn’t dare mount assassinations inside the USA, but because Europe is weak, they assess it’s possible to do it there without serious consequences.”