Moscow: A Russian newspaper said on Thursday that the head of Moscow`s deep cover spying operations in the United States was a double agent who had betrayed at least 10 compatriots in a major blow to Russian intelligence.
Kommersant reported that Colonel Shcherbakov, head of the Foreign Intelligence Service`s department for "illegal" spying operations in the United States, had been working for Washington.
The newspaper said Shcherbakov -- it did not give his first name -- had been spirited out of Moscow to the United States days before the US Federal Bureau of Investigation announced in June that it had arrested the members of a Russian spy ring.
But Kommersant quoted an unidentified official in the Kremlin administration as saying, in a comment reminiscent of spying in the Cold War era, that a Russian hit squad was probably already planning to kill him.
"We know who he is and where he is," the Kremlin official was quoted as saying.
"Do not doubt that a Mercader has been sent after him already," the Kremlin official said, referring to Russian agent Ramon Mercader, who murdered exiled Bolshevik Leon Trotsky with an ice axe in 1940 in Mexico.
A spokesman for Russia`s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), asked to comment on the Kommersant report, said "We have no comment on this and will not have any."
"What I can say is that the press centre of the SVR did not give any of this to Kommersant," said SVR spokesman Sergei Ivanov.
In June, the United States announced it had broken a spy ring that had been operating in the United States for 10 years, its members adopting false identities and blending into their surroundings while they tried to gather intelligence for Moscow.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin later condemned the traitor, saying he had betrayed the Russian agents, and President Dmitry Medvedev decorated the spies for their services to Russia.