MAKICHUK: Russia's ruthless SMERSH unit is back

In From Russia With Love, Bond is lured by a Lektor decoder and a beautiful cipher clerk, as part of an evil SMERSH/Spectre plan.
In From Russia With Love, Bond is lured by a Lektor decoder and a beautiful cipher clerk, as part of an evil SMERSH/Spectre plan. EON Productions..

We first came to know of SMERSH in Ian Fleming's early spy novels, featuring none other than 007, agent James Bond.

SMERSH is an abbreviation of Smert Shpionam (death to spies.) It was established by Stalin in 1942 and existed until at least 1946.

The lethal counter-intelligence organization was established in a bid to fight German spies and foreign intelligence, as well as hunt down real and perceived “traitors” and “anti-Soviet elements” in the Red Army.

So when photos of Russian officers in uniforms marked with SMERSH emerged on social media in early January this year, it sent shockwaves through the nation's hierarchy and populace, The Barents Observer reported.

The operatives had apprehended a man from the south Russian Belgorod region and forced him to publicly apologize for his filming of a Russian air defence system battling Ukrainian drones.

The photos came only few weeks after Andrei Gurulyev, a member of the State Duma and Lieutenant General in the Russian Armed Forces, announced that SMERSH was being re-established.

“We were talking about SMERSH, (and) a management has today been established,” Gurulyev said in a post on Telegram.

According to the politician, who is believed to have been associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group, SMERSH will operate not only on the territories of Ukraine occupied by Russia, but in all of Russia, the report said.

“We today understand that there are emerging people in our country that are assisted by Western special services and that will play dirty tricks with us,” Gurulyev argued.

SMERSH-operatives in Belgorod.
SMERSH-operatives in Belgorod. Telegram/Moscow Times

“The fight with saboteurs and spies on the territory of the whole country is necessary, after all the war has embraced all the territory of the Russian Federation.”

His Telegram post was published shortly after the successful sabotage operation by Ukrainian agents against the BAM railway tunnel and other sites believed to be safe and out of range of saboteurs, the report said.

According to the FSB (Russia's Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB), more than 30,000 spies, about 3,500 saboteurs and 6,000 terrorists were neutralized by SMERSH in its years of operation.

Just how many of these people were actual “spies” is very much open to doubt, however.

“In the Kola Peninsula, the Northern Fleet was in constant contact with German-Fascist naval and army forces, something that created favourable possibilities for the penetration of enemy agents into our troops,” the FSB stated in a press release.

It was also a vitally important instrument of political repression among the civilian population near the front.

The legacy of SMERSH today lives on in the Russian security services and especially the FSB.

The latter is responsible for counterintelligence, antiterrorism and surveillance of the military.

In January 2023, the FSB that operates as part of the Northern Fleet, opened a grand new office complex in Severomorsk, the Fleet headquarter city, the report said.

The FSB headquarters in Murmansk.
The FSB headquarters in Murmansk.Courtesy Thomas Nilsen

Judging from satellite images, the complex that is located at the local Vice Admiral Padorin Street covers a 150-metre long area.

The opening of the new complex was attended by the top brass of the regional FSB, as well as Murmansk regional Governor Andrei Chibis and a string of other dignitaries, photos from the opening show, the report said.

The FSB also has a brand new office complex in downtown Murmansk. It is one of the highest buildings in town and has an unmistaken Stalin-era architecture.

The resurrection of SMERSH is clearly the reaction of an increasingly oppressive state. Russian authorities, it can only be assumed, want to invoke fear again.

From Russia With Love was the fifth Bond novel by Fleming and published in 1957.

Fleming wrote the story in early 1956 at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica; at the time he thought it might be his final Bond book.

In the book, SMERSH devises a plan to enact a devastating blow against the British Secret Service by killing 007 in the most humiliating manner possible.

As bait, the Russians use a beautiful cipher clerk Tatiana Romanova and the Lektor, a Soviet decoding machine.

The story culminates with a dramatic fight scene between Bond and SMERSH agent Grant on the Orient Express.

President John F. Kennedy famously listed From Russia, with Love as his 9th favourite book, sending readers to bookstores in droves.

JFK was shown a rough cut of the movie, just one day before he left on his fateful trip to Dallas.

From Russia With Love was the last film seen by JFK.
From Russia With Love was the last film seen by JFK.EON Productions.

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