Bitov’s Secrets

Michael Glenny

The only really mystifying feature of the Oleg Bitov episode is why such a fuss was made of him. He was not, in Western terms, a big fish at all – except perhaps in his own eyes. If anything, he was something of an embarrassment to the British and Soviet Intelligence services, both of whom, however, attempted in their own ways to extract what political value they could from his defection and his return to the USSR a year later. Those Westerners with a professional interest in the episode – security, Sovietology, journalism, broadcasting – appear to have come to the conclusion that it is scarcely worth the trouble to disentangle the truth from the web of lies around Bitov, because his escapade is of little real significance.

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