MOSCOW (Reuters) - Ex-Soviet KGB foreign intelligence chief Leonid Shebarshin was found dead in his Moscow apartment on Friday in an apparent suicide, Russian investigators said.
Shebarshin, 77, who headed the First Chief Directorate, a foreign intelligence service within the KGB during 1989-1991, appeared to have committed suicide, the Investigative Committee said on its website www.sledcom.ru. A gun, which he was awarded upon retirement, was discovered near his body.
Police also found a suicide note on the scene, Interfax news agency quoted a police official as saying.
The ex-spy, fluent in Urdu, worked on assignments in Pakistan, India and Iran in the 1950s-1970s. He was appointed deputy chief of foreign intelligence in 1987, and promoted to head the service in 1989.
Shebarshin briefly occupied the KGB’s top post after the failed August 1991 hardline coup, intended to halt president Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms paved the way for the collapse of the communist party, the end of the Soviet Union and the creation of the present-day Russian state.
He resigned from active service shortly after the coup.
Stanislav Kucher, a commentator who had interviewed Shebarshin and counted him as a close acquaintance, said Shebarshin had been “of sound mind” at 77 and that he did not know why he might have killed himself.
The www.lifenews.ru website quoted extracts from Shebarshin’s diary discovered at the scene, which revealed that he could have had health problems. His last entry read:
“March, 29 - 17.15, left eye failure. 19.00, went completely blind. Foreign Intelligence duty officer 4293593.”
The KGB fragmented after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its once-mighty foreign intelligence service, crippled by underfinancing and corruption in the 1990s, suffered damage to its reputation in a number of embarrassing spy failures abroad.
Writing by Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Ron Askew