MI6 Chief Thanks Russian State Television for Its 'Help' in Encouraging Russians to Spy for the UK

Richard Moore, the Chief of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6
Richard Moore, the Chief of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6, answers questions at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in London, on Nov. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON — The head of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency has thanked Russian state television for its “help” encouraging Russians to spy for the U.K. after it translated and broadcast part of a speech he gave earlier this year in which he called on Russians to “join hands with us.”

Anchor Maria Butina — herself a former Russian spy — included the clip at the top of a program about Richard Moore, the head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6.

Moore gave the speech in July at the British Embassy in Prague where he openly encouraged Russians faced with “the venality, infighting and sheer callous incompetence of their leaders” to spy for Britain.

On Monday, Moore tweeted that the British foreign intelligence agency had been “puzzling over how to get my message to our target audience in Russia — we never thought Russian state TV would step in to help."

“Thanks folks,” he added.

Butina introduced the clip at the start of an hourlong program in September about the MI6 chief and appeared to scoff at the suggestion that Russians would spy for the UK.

Accusing Moore of employing “cheap recruiting methods," she questioned whether he was seriously asking Russians “to buy into this shameless provocation?”

Butina is a former covert Russian agent who spent more than a year in prison in the United States after admitting that she sought to infiltrate conservative U.S. political groups and promote Russia’s agenda around the time that Donald Trump rose to power.

Butina told The Associated Press via Telegram that she was “shocked” that the MI6 chief was interested in her show.

Labeling Moore’s position as “desperate” and “weak,” she questioned whether “MI6 is so incompetent that they are unable to translate their content from English to Russian by themselves and deliver it to whomever they believe is their audience that they need Russian TV to do so?!”

When asked whether she helped the U.K.'s foreign intelligence agency to spread its message to Russians, she suggested if Moore had watched the full program he would have seen the “unpleasant and ugly” portrayal of himself and MI6.

“After such ‘advertising,’ no one would definitely want to become a British spy,” she said.

Western officials say that since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, they’ve seen a change in the motives of Russians passing information to the West. Previously, money and personal motives dominated, but increasingly defectors are driven by anger at the government of President Vladimir Putin.

During his speech in July, Moore said that MI6’s “door is always open.”

“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,” Moore said.

Any Russian contemplating spying for a Western intelligence agency would likely be aware of multiple reports that Russia has tried to kill and maim citizens who spy against Moscow.

In 2018, the British government accused Russian intelligence agencies of trying to kill Sergei Skripal, a Russian spy who became a double agent for Britain. Skripal and his daughter Yulia fell ill after authorities said they were poisoned with the military grade nerve agent Novichok.

Russia denied any role in his poisoning, and Putin called Skripal a “scumbag” of no interest to the Kremlin, because he was tried in Russia and exchanged in a spy swap in 2010.

The U.K. government has recently also accused Russian intelligence services of trying to meddle in British politics by targeting high-profile politicians, civil servants and journalists with cyberespionage.

Russia has a history of giving former agents their own television shows. In 2011, Anna Chapman, a former Russian sleeper agent in the U.S. — who was exchanged in the same spy swap as Skripal — was given her own TV show, “Chapman’s Secrets.”

And in 2014, Andrei Lugovoi anchored the television show “Traitors,” about Soviet spies who betrayed their motherland. Lugovoi is wanted in the U.K. over involvement in the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in 2006 after being poisoned with tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.


Jill Lawless contributed to this report.

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