Planned in late 1986 and mounted in March to April 1987 Operation PUSHKIN was the most audacious intelligence operation mounted by the British Secret Intelligence Service during World War Three. Involving the exfiltration of a target codenamed FLUELIN from the heart of the Soviet Union itself the operation used a great many of SIS's remaining assets within the USSR, personnel of the Special Boat Service and the close co-operation of Norway's intelligence and military community.
Much of PUSHKIN is still classified, but enough details have now emerged to tell the story of what happened. Planned as much as a propaganda coup as anything else, PUSHKIN was also intended as a demonstration to the Soviet leadership that despite everything else that was going on that the UK intelligence community could exfiltrate anyone it chose from the Eastern Bloc, even someone who was heavily guarded within the very heart of the USSR itself.
Much of the information for PUSHKIN came from the defector and former KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky had himself been exfiltrated from the USSR on the eve of war and had previously been a source of warnings that the Soviets were planning to start a conflict with the USA and her few remaining allies.
What is generally known about Gordievsky is that he supplied SIS and MI5 with a great deal of information on Soviet operations in the UK and the West, and a lot on the mindset of the increasingly paranoid Soviet leadership. He was, for example, the first source about the Soviet reaction to ABLE ARCHER and revealed the existence of Operation RYAN. What is less known is that Gordievsky had established a network of disaffected KGB officers within the USSR and while he had been forced to defect after he had been betrayed by the American traitor Aldrich Ames, the network was still intact and in contact with SIS via the British Interests Section of the Norwegian Embassy.
Ames was revealed as a traitor in 1987 and was killed while 'resisting arrest'.
Crucial to the PUSHKIN planners was the news that several members of Gordievsky's network (codenamed BULLINGDON) had become part of FLUELIN's protection detail and would thus be able to assist with the exfiltration.
Operation PUSHKIN was set in motion on the night of 21st March 1987 when a C-130 Hercules in the markings of the Royal Norwegian Air Force landed at Andøya Air Station in Northern Norway. What anyone who saw this aircraft could not know was that in fact it was a Hercules C.1 of No.47 Squadron, which specialised in supporting operations by UKSF. In this case it was carrying the men and equipment of a troop from S Squadron, Special Boat Service. Their job would be to support the exfiltration team on its way out of the USSR; the Norwegians would officially look the other way, however it is now known that four members of the Royal Norwegian Navy's special forces, the Marinejegerkommandoen (MJK), were attached to the SBS troop for liaison and support purposes.
By 27th March the Gordievsky network had arranged for their people to form most of the protective detachment of the target. A small SIS team, infiltrated via Finland was also ready. To make matters easier the target was due to make a tour of the military installations of the Kola Peninsula.
While travelling on a remote road the vehicles carrying the target and his escort was stopped by what appeared to be Internal Troops of the MVD. In fact they were the SIS snatch team, who with the assistance of the Gordievsky network overcame the other guards. The senior SIS man, a former SAS major pulled the target from the Zil, paused for a moment as he recognised him and uttered words that were to go down in history.
"Harold Adrian Russell Philby, I am arresting you for treason and espionage. You do not have to to say anything..."