The SVR, the Russian intelligence service at the centre of an alleged spy ring cracked by the US, is the modern successor to the KGB that remains intensely active in the post Cold War era.
If the episode reads like a plot from a Cold War-era spy thriller it's hardly surprising — for despite the collapse of Communism the SVR has far from renounced its wide-ranging intelligence activities.
It was for the SVR's Communist-era predecessor that Russia's strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin worked while stationed in the former East Germany and the organization remains key to Russia's modern strategy.
"The SVR is a modern special service staffed by talented, goal-orientated people, loyal to the motherland and the military duty," the SVR says in a mission statement on its website.
The SVR (Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki — Foreign Intelligence Service) is in charge of external intelligence gathering while its fellow KGB successor the FSB (Federal Security Service) focuses on counter-intelligence and domestic security.