Moscow names 'Kim Philby Square' to honour British defector

Moscow (AFP) –


Moscow this week named a square after Kim Philby, the British double agent who defected to the Soviet Union in 1963, near the headquarters of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service.

The move comes as relations between London and Moscow have plunged to Cold War-era lows over the poisoning of the former double-agent Sergei Skripal in England, allegedly by Russian spies.

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin ordered that an intersection in a southwestern district be renamed "Kim Philby Square", according to a decree carried on the local government website on Tuesday.

A city hall spokeswoman said she could not immediately comment on the decision, while local residents expressed surprise on social networks, saying Philby never had anything to do with the neighbourhood.

Philby, who died in Moscow in 1988, was perhaps the best-known member of the notorious spy ring Cambridge Five, a group of British establishment figures who were recruited to work for the Soviets.

Considered Britain's biggest Cold War traitor, Philby was a senior MI6 officer. He was exposed in 1963 after passing information to Moscow over three decades.

After his defection Philby lived in central Moscow, far from the windswept intersection in a relatively new part of the city that is almost exclusively made up of residential towers.

The square is however close to the sprawling campus of the SVR, Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service.

The agency has maintained Philby's legacy, with a page on its website dedicated to him and the intelligence he provided during World War II.

SVR director Sergei Naryshkin last year spoke at an event to mark the unveiling of a portrait of Philby at a gallery in Moscow.

Intelligence veterans suggested at that event that a street should be named after the defector because he enjoyed walking around the city.

But several residents of Yasenevo district said on a neighbourhood Facebook group they had no idea who he was and wondered if Moscow had run out of names of Russian writers to use.

"They should have named the ramp leading to their campus after him instead," wrote user Katerina Reatsea, referring to the intelligence agency.