VLADIMIR Putin's spies have "infiltrated" every part of British society, a former KGB agent has warned.
Ex-double agent Boris Karpichkov, 63, said the extent of Russia's spy activity in the UK is now "immense" – and claims UK security agencies are blind to the threat.
It comes after three Bulgarian nationals suspected of working for the Russian intelligence services were arrested and charged in a major national security investigation.
Orlin Roussev, 45, Bizer Dzhambazov, 41, and Katrin Ivanova, 31, led unassuming suburban lives in Britain for the last 10 years – even calling over to their neighbours with homemade cakes.
The trio were among five people arrested in February on suspicion of an offence under the Official Secrets Act.
They were also charged with possessing identity documents with "improper intention", police said.
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The accused are set to go on trial at the Old Bailey in London in January.
Mr Karpichkov, who is living in exile in the UK, described a "huge network" of so-called sleeper agents.
He slammed UK security agencies for not doing enough to protect Britain from the far-reaching tentacles of Russia's spy activity.
"Russian security services have a huge network of so called 'sleepers' who have infiltrated literally every single part of the British society," he told The Sun.
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"This includes the Commons, House of Lords, judiciary, state offices, British police forces, NCA, and institutions who are supposed to keep us 'safe'.
"It's just a small 'fragment' of the real 'iceberg' related to the illegal activity of the Russian spies."
He added: "The spread and extent of the Russian security services spy activity now is immense – regardless of the fact staff at the Russian embassy in London has been significantly reduced during the last few years.
"British law enforcement and security agencies do not do enough to 'localise' Russian spies' widespread activity in the UK.
"Security agencies seemingly seriously underestimate and disregard these activities to be serious enough to take much more effective actions.
"This happened in the Litvinenko murder case, in Gareth Williams' murder case, the Skripals poisoning, and other cases of suspicious deaths.
"Certain top UK-located Russian nationals are now making a lot of effort to 'persuade' the British government to overturn sanctions imposed after the war in Ukraine."
The spread and extent of the Russian security services spy activity is now immense
Born in Latvia, Mr Karpichkov served as a double agent, spying on Latvia for the Russians and on Russia for the Latvians.
A graduate of a KGB academy in Minsk, he served in Russian intelligence for more than a decade and he was privy to Kremlin secrets at the very highest level.
When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, he stayed in Latvia and he joined the country’s intelligence services.
But he defected to the UK in 1998 after the post-communist Russian authorities found out he had betrayed his masters by passing information to the Latvian government.
He fled to Britain with suitcases full of secrets and spy paraphernalia, including six false passports, after serving as a major in Russia’s KGB and its FSB successor.
In an exclusive interview with The Sun last year, he accused the UK government of "playing Russian roulette" with his life after revealing his British alias, address and leaving him feeling unprotected from Putin's assassins and spies.
Following the arrest of the three suspected Russian spies in the UK, Christopher Steele, who ran the Russia desk at MI6 between 2006 and 2009, said the operation should "act as a deterrent".
"I think it's early days yet to make any definitive judgements about what's behind this," he told Sky News.
"Clearly, the government appears to believe that they were working for the Russian state, Russian intelligence.
"It's an impressive [police] operation. It will act as a deterrent, I think, for others.
"But of course Russia is effectively at war for the moment and Russia and Putin will stop at very little to pursue their state objectives, whether it's on the battlefield or in the sort of espionage elements of areas of the UK and Europe."
Meanwhile, Sir Richard Barrons said the arrests of the three Bulgarian nationals is only "one small part" of Putin's growing espionage operation in the UK.
He told The Sun: "We should see this as just one episode and one small part of what we know as an expanding, serious threat of Russian espionage directed at the UK and all of us."
Warning that Britain is under greater levels of espionage than the Cold War, he said: "The threat is bigger than that."
Referring to the crimes already committed by Russian agents in the UK – the Salisbury poisonings and the murder of Alexander Litvinenko – Barrons said: "Russia thinks it can get away with it.
"Russia doesn’t play by any rules we bind ourselves to.
"We talk lots about cyber-attacks, misinformation, but spies like this exist in numbers and are prepared to do harm."
This is likely the tip of a very big iceberg,
Judging by their hoard of identity documents, the general believes the suspected spy ring were working as a "covert, lower-level part of Russian security services" responsible for "surveillance".
In 2020, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament released a report that stated the government had taken "its eye off the ball on Russia".
It boldly admitted that "they underestimated the response required to the Russian threat and are still playing catch up".
Former MI5 officer, Annie Machon, agrees that the threat of Russian espionage is "past Cold War levels".
The Intelligence Committee has already laid out that the "perceived threat is rapidly developing and becoming more aggressive," she told The Sun, adding that it has surged since 2008.
"This is likely the tip of a very big iceberg," she added.
Russia, Machon argues, has spent 15 years increasing its influence in the UK and not just through spies but through "cash to access" tactics used by oligarchs to buy political power.
In November, ex-MI6 agent Julian Richards said Moscow had become so effective at spying in Britain that intelligence agencies "don't know" just how many rogue operatives are active in the UK.
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And MI5 Director General Ken McCallum said more than 600 Russian officials were expelled from European countries – "over 400 of whom we judge as spies".
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