MI6 chief thanks Russian TV host for promoting his anti-Putin speech

The head of MI6, Richard Moore, extended his thanks to Russian state television for promoting a speech in which he urged Russians to distance themselves from President Vladimir Putin.

Moore delivered the speech at the British Embassy in Prague in July, calling on Russians to collaborate with the UK’s intelligence service. The unexpected assistance came from Channel 1 in September, where anchor Maria Butina, a former Russian spy, included a clip of Moore’s speech, seemingly dismissing the suggestion.

Moore, appreciative of the unexpected promotion, stated on Monday: “In truth, we were 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.”

Mark Galeotti, a Russian security services expert at University College London, deemed the translation and broadcast of Moore’s comments a “pretty serious gaffe”.

Butina’s audience, likely individuals of interest to British intelligence, raises questions about the potential success of the message. Galeotti noted that intelligence work involves casting out “crumbs” and hoping for a response.

Accusing Moore of employing “cheap recruiting methods,” Butina questioned the seriousness of asking Russians to “buy into this shameless provocation”. Butina, a former covert Russian agent, spent over a year in U.S. prison for attempting to infiltrate conservative U.S. political groups.

Butina expressed shock that the MI6 chief was interested in her show, labeling Moore’s position as “desperate” and “weak”. She questioned MI6’s competence in translating content and delivering messages to their intended audience without Russian TV assistance.

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Limited coverage of Moore’s comments in Russian media at the time suggests potential Kremlin instructions to avoid covering his remarks. Galeotti suggested Butina and her team might have included the comments inadvertently, possibly unaware of the instructions.

Western officials highlight a shift in the motives of Russians sharing information with the West since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Anger at President Putin’s government increasingly drives defectors, contrasting with previous financial motives.

In his July speech, Moore assured that MI6’s “door is always open” and emphasized discretion and professionalism in handling offers of help. Despite potential risks for those contemplating spying, Moore pledged that secrets would be safe, and collaboration would work towards ending bloodshed.

Russia has a history of former agents hosting television shows. Anna Chapman, a former sleeper agent in the U.S., and Andrei Lugovoi, wanted in the UK for involvement in the death of Alexander Litvinenko, both had their own TV shows in Russia.

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