Former MI6 agent turned Soviet spy George Blake has died at the age of 98.
His death, reported by Russia’s state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, was confirmed by Sergei Ivanov, the head of the press bureau of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).
Blake was described as an “outstanding professional of special courage and life endurance” by Russian president Vladimir Putin, who was also a former officer of the KGB, the state security police of the Soviet Union now succeeded by the SVR.
In a condolence message, Mr Putin said: “Throughout the years of his hard and strenuous efforts he made a truly invaluable contribution to ensuring the strategic parity and the preservation of peace on the planet.
“Our hearts will always cherish the warm memory of this legendary man.”
In 1961, the former MI6 officer was jailed for 42 years for spying for Russia during the Cold War, but he escaped from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966.
Born in Rotterdam in 1922, Blake moved to England where he enlisted with the Royal Navy, and was later asked to join the British Secret Service.
During the height of the Cold War, he leaked Government secrets to the Soviet Union, including a secret tunnel the West, including the UK and the US, had built to tap Soviet communications.
Blake was exposed as a Soviet agent to the British by a Polish defector, Michael Goleniewski, and arrested.
Later, in an interview with the BBC, he admitted betraying more than 500 agents, but denied his actions had led to the execution of at least 40 British agents in Russia.
Blake, who went by the Russian name Georgy Ivanovich, spent the last 40 years of his life in Russia.
He remained among the UK’s most wanted criminals, leading him to miss his mother’s funeral in the Netherlands in 1994, believing there was an MI5 plot to return him to Britain.
In 2006, the UK Government was ordered by European judges to pay Blake more than £5,000 in compensation after they ruled the length of a court battle over royalties from his memoir, No Other Choice, about his MI6 career, breached his human rights.
The case lasted nearly nine years, with the House of Lords finally ruling that Blake should not receive the profits from the book sales.