Remember how the Russian newspaper Kommersant leaked
name, rank and position of the traitor who betrayed the Russian “illegals” to the FBI? Well, they mostly got it right, except they had the wrong name, and no photos. These details have now also been leaked to the Russian media and quite a few things are now known about him, all of them horribly embarrassing for the SVR.
First, not only was he a top KGB official, but he came from what might arguably called the most prestigious and successful special forces training organization ever formed: the KUOS of the KGB.
The letters KUOS stand for “Advanced Officer Perfectioning Course” (КУОС: Курсы Усовершенствования Офицерского Состава). Under that rather banal name stood an absolutely unique KGB organization: the KUOS was tasked with creating special forces operators which would also be real, fully trained spies and real, fully trained special operators. I know, many countries and organizations (including the US CIA) claim to have such forces, but in reality only the Soviets succeeded in creating such a very rare breed of agents.
KUOS candidates had to have at least two college degrees (typically: engineering and foreign languages), they were all trained in various KGB academies and schools which prepared the cadre of the PGU (First Chief Main Directorate – the foreign intelligence branch of the KGB which later became the SVR). Many of them also had working experience in the 2nd Main Directorate (Counter-Intelligence), but they were later sent to a special forces training program which was at least as extensive as anything the Spetsnaz GRU, the British SAS or the US 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment (“Delta” force) ever got. In fact, they KUOS was openly modeled on the British SAS program, only adapted to the Soviet needs. I know for a fact that in several competitions the KUOS officers out-performed their formidable Spetsnaz GRU colleagues.
The KUOS produced a top elite unit which had different names in different times, including Zenit, Kaskad or Vympel. The creation of these special KGB Spetsnaz units was the initiative of Yuri Andropov, who later became Secretary General of the CPSU. He is also the man who created the famous anti-terrorist unit “Alpha”.
Coming back to Poteev, he was a member of the Zenit and Kaskad units and because of this an old photo of the man does exist. In fact, it has been on the Internet for years.
I took the photo, made a blowup of it, and cleaned it a little.
Meet Nikolai Pavlovich Poteev aka “Colonel Shcherbakov”:
This photo was taken in Afghanistan, decades ago, when he still was a serving officer of the Zenit unit.
By any criteria, Poteev was member of the elite of the elite, the top of the top, the best of the best, you name it. His career was nothing short of stellar and I can only imagine the absolute sense of horror and betrayal felt by his comrades when they learned of his treason.
Furthermore, the newly revealed details of his biography tell me that he must have been a “walk-in” as I just cannot imagine a KUOS officer being baited or otherwise tricked by the FBI into betraying his fellow comrades and his country.
In September of 1991 I had the very rare opportunity to personally meet several KUOS graduates one evening in Moscow, in a very private and informal setting (in fact, we spend much of the night drinking, singing songs and talking about the past when we used to be mortal enemies of each other) and one of them, a former Kaskad commander, became a good friend of mine. I am absolutely sure that all of these men would much rather die than to commit an act of treason. No, Poteev must have been a “walk-in”.
To make things even worse, Poteevs’ father was a Hero of the Soviet Union, a WWII veteran of the tank forces (he died in 1972).
I don’t know if in the history of espionage their has ever been a case of a more painful and soul-wrecking betrayal than the one of the treason committed by Poteev.
I can only speculate about his motives, but my personal recollections of the KUOS graduates makes me strongly lean towards the following version which is, I want to insist on that here, a pure product of my imagination:
I believe that like most of his fellow KUOS graduates Poteev must have been deeply disgusted by the events of 1991. Not only by the fall of the Soviet Union (the KGB had predicted that it would happen long before 1991), but by the takeover of Russia by Eltsin, his so called “oligarchs”, and the criminal mob. Furthermore, I believe that, just like the vast majority of his fellow KUOS graduates, he must have hated the “buffoon communists” like Ziuganov, the “buffoon patriots” like Zhirinosvski or the “buffoon democrats” like Chubais. Poteev probably felt that his country had betrayed him and everything he had given his life for and he decided to take revenge on it.
Most KUOS officers left during the early Eltsin years, many drowned their disgust and pain in alcohol, other left to live in faraway rural villages. Some made a brilliant career in the new Russian “business” world. Some, very few, even stayed in, or close to, the various current FSB Spetsnaz units and schools. But all in all, the old KGB Spetsnaz are a thing of the past, never to be re-created again.
I might well be wrong about all this, but this is my best guess. It might well be that all of this info is wrong, that no Poteev ever really existed. But if this information is correct, then this is a truly shattering blow to the entire Russian intelligence community which will take decades to recover from it.
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