He invited NBC News to his small apartment in a public housing block in the sleepy northern England town of Haltwhistle. He considers the watchful neighbors and tight-knit community his best defense against any attempt on his life by Russian agents.
“If any stranger appears, he will be immediately seen, believe me,” says the 63-year-old. “I have two people on my side: God and the local community.”
Makarov now lives a modest life on a state pension equivalent to around $1,124 per month, but once seemed destined for greater things. He overlapped with Putin at an academy for aspiring KGB agents, although he has no memory of the future Russian president, he says.
Upon graduating, Makarov worked as a Greek-to-Russian translator in Soviet intelligence. He grew disenchanted with Soviet foreign policy after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and repression in Poland.
“My defection was caused by the fact that I realized I was doing the wrong things, serving this regime,” he says.
He approached a British spy in Moscow through an intermediary and, over a two-year period, passed information to U.K. intelligence. Makarov was eventually caught, arrested and sentenced to 10 years in a forced labor camp. His sentence was cut in half after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and he was freed in February 1992.
After his release, Makarov approached a British official in Latvia, who facilitated his defection to the U.K.
Makarov, now a British citizen, believes that Putin, resentful toward the West for “being ignored,” simply wants to be reckoned with. He “adores brinkmanship and intimidation,” Makarov says.
“Brinkmanship is dangerous by definition.”