Oh dear! The KGB might have heard the Queen of England scolding her Welsh Corgi puppies.

soviet_posterThis past November, in a thorough security scan of the British royal family’s residence, it was determined that a samovar which had been presented as a gift to the Queen by the Russians more than twenty years ago might possibly be harboring surveillance devices, leading to its removal from the premises.

The need for security for the British royal family is indisputable, but the whole thing strikes me as a little absurd. I lack professional expertise in Cold War spy technology, but I find it highly unlikely that any hidden and tiny electronic audio transmission device could function for twenty years in any capacity. I also find it unlikely that a samovar would be chosen as a good spy cover. If the royal family were to use it for brewing tea, which it appears they did not, the surrounding environment would be moist, hot and noisy, hostile working conditions for any spy bug. And what the story really leads me to question is why they did not simply disassemble the electronic components and check them. Aside from that, why didn’t someone suspect it in the eighties at the height of the Cold War? I would have thought that paranoia surrounding big brass from the USSR would have been higher than now.

“The ornate 2ft samovar was presented to the monarch around 20 years ago, and had been kept in the corner of a drawing room on the Aberdeenshire estate.

But now British anti-surveillance experts have insisted that it be removed, amid fears that its arcane Eastern Bloc wiring could contain a listening device.

Any bug inside the teapot could have picked up details of the Queen’s conversations with prime ministers and other world leaders, as well as private discussions between members of the Royal Family.”

samovarNone of the articles I found showed any pictures of the suspect tea brewing device, but I assume that it was the standard large brass traditional type, although it could have been one of the garishly over-decorated enamel varieties. In either case, it was probably manufactured by Tula Samovars, one of the primary manufacturers in Russia for the past few centuries.

“The samovar was always a bit of an enigma. No one could work out what the Russians thought we were going to do with it,” a retainer told the Daily Express.

“No one considered it a security risk until a recent sweep by these spooks with their electronic devices. They swept everywhere imaginable, public and private rooms, and the first thing to go was the samovar.”

Here is the source article, on the Telegraph.

Countering the claim, “Mikhail Lyubimov, who served in the Russian secret services in Britain for several decades, has dismissed the reports, saying that the alleged bugging method was ineffective and useless.”

I’d be more than willing to take this samovar off of Balmoral’s hands and keep it safely far away from the royal family. I’ve been shopping for a samovar of this type and vintage for some time and haven’t found one that is perfect or affordable yet. I could rewire it to accommodate 110 volt U.S. current and sell any Soviet bugging devices that I find on eBay.

Here is an article on the same topic on the ESET security blog, in which the writer expresses a skepticism similar to mine.

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6 Comments

  1. This is truly bizarre. Thanks for sharing!

    • What an interesting little item. It’s really rather funny, the idea that this item would get used, or ever even be in the presence of anyone of any importance is most unlikely, let alone the Queen herself!

      The Queen will have had literally tens of thousands of gifts given to her over the decades of her reign. In fact, nobody knows which are her personal property and which are state property (the small matter of ownership was discussed some time ago). I can’t imagine she actually uses any of them. In relation to tea, she’s probably never made any herself. Monarchs have people for that!

      Nevertheless, those Russian urns are quite marvellous.

      Thanks for the link, Lainie 🙂

      And thank you too, Gong Fu Girl.

      • One of the articles I read said that the samovar was a favorite item of the Queen Mother’s, although she seemingly was only interested in it as a a decorative rather than functional object. I guess after she died in 2002 it lost its defender!

        • Ah, I can imagine so. They can be such incredible decorative items, especially the ones a royal would own. Perhaps the Soviet’s discovered things about the Queen Mum’s drinking habits- in her case a samovar would be decorative only!

  2. Gongfu Girl:

    Hello, and I just discovered your Web site. Thank you for writing so cogently about your experience with tea. I’ll be delving deeply through your archives in the weeks ahead, and I look forward to learning more about you.

    And the idea of sneaking a listening device into the samovar? Brilliant, diabolical. You know, in these days of piracy and terrorism, I sometimes miss the cloak-and-dagger days of yore. I bet the British are wishing they had snuck just such a device into the Kremlin’s Brown Betty.

    Sincerely,

    Steven