VLADIMIR Putin has resurrected the feared counterintelligence group Smersh, according to British intelligence.
It was disbanded in 1946 but now, the Ministry of Defence has said, the organisation has been “re-established”.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, the MoD said: “In late 2023, Russian politicians claimed that the Soviet counter-intelligence (CI) organisation ‘Smersh’ was being re-established.
“In early January 2024, an open-source image showed operatives apparently wearing Smersh uniform patches.”
The unit became widely known in the West largely thanks to Ian Fleming’s portrayal of its operatives in his James Bond novels, such as From Russia With Love and later on the film versions.
The MoD notes that it is not clear if the resurrected Smersh is a newly formed unit or just a new name for an existing unit which has been “re-badged”.
It said the group was another example of how Moscow is consciously couching the Ukraine war in the “spirit of the Second World War” as well as the Kremlin’s obsession with “infiltration of external threats into the country”.
The counterintelligence unit was initially formed to combat Nazi infiltration in the Red Army during World War II as well as squash dissent and insurgency in territory occupied by the Soviet Union in Germany and East Europe.
It became known for it savagery and brutality, executing thousands of people who had been accused – rightly or wrongly, of being traitors to the Russian cause.
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Smersh operatives discovered Adolf Hitler’s remains after he killed himself in his Berlin bunker in 1945 as the Red Army moved in towards the German capital.
Putin launched an unprovoked invasion of its neighbour Ukraine in 2022,
Russian politicians and bloggers say an official Smersh-style group is already active in Russian-occupied areas of eastern Ukraine and could already have been expanded to Russia proper.
Putin has attempted to gain public support for the war by portraying the fight being between Russia and NATO forces that he says are trying to undermine and destroy Russia.
In the James Bond films, Smersh is seen as being the British spy’s deadly rivals – most famously portrayed in From Russia With Love, where assassin Rosa Klebb, played by Lotte Lenya, tries to kill Bond with a flick knife in her shoe.