According to an article written in the British newspaper, The Daily Express, the Russian secret service has been “bugging” the activities of the good Queen Elizabeth II via a samovar that was presented as a “good will” gift and placed in the royal residence at Balmoral, Scotland, some twenty years ago. Although its roots are Chinese, over the centuries the samovar has become representative of Russian culture, becoming a popular souvenir and present.
Samovars are usually found in the shape of a large metal urn. Traditionally, hot coals or charcoal heat the water inside in a chimney-like tube, which runs through the center of the urn, but today, an electric coil is more often used. The samovar is merely the boiling device, which is drawn off the spigot into a separate teapot in which the tea steeps.
The samovar awarded to the queen of England was modern and highly decorated. The Queen Mother was very fond of the ornate kettle and enjoyed demonstrating it to guests. However, the royal family's servants were warned never to use the samovar, or even plug it in. The “strange” wiring did not go unnoticed and the samovar was eventually removed for fear that it might have been bugging not only royalty’s most intimate secrets, but also the Queen’s important discussions with prime ministers and other world leaders.
A member of the British secret service for decades, Mikhail Lyubimov claims:
“The alleged bugging model referred to by The Daily Express is both ineffective and useless. Buckingham Palace and the Queen were never objects of great interest to us, since the Queen doesn't have an active role in Britain's governance.”
In spite of this, the-ex secret agent did relate a story to the press concerning a very strange Russian souvenir. It took place in the 1960s, when the US ambassador to Russia was presented with a wooden eagle. It stood in one corner of his office for several years before the bug embedded within it was discovered.
So the moral of the story is:
Beware of anyone of any nationality bearing gifts unless it’s Christmas or someone’s birthday.
You just can’t be too careful these days.