In my stamp collection is a 1990 Soviet Union stamp commemorating British double agent Kim Philby. Above his likeness is the title СОВЕТСКИЙ РАЗВЕДЧИК, which to my understanding translates to "Soviet Sentry". The term "sentry" strikes me as odd though, because sentry isn't a synonym for spy. Can somebody shed any light on this particular choice of wording?

An online dictionary indicates the term means "sentry" which doesn't make any sense. Kim Philby was a British double agent, not a "scout", but obviously the USSR considered him valuable, and perhaps a hero. So does the particular Russian term have a more nuanced meaning when it comes to espionage, or does it perhaps mean "Guardian of the Soviet Union", or something else entirely?

Thank you!

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    Разведчик is "intelligence officer". Разведчик is a "good guy", the "bad guy" is шпион. I believe the same difference is between "spy" and "intelligence officer" like "our intelligence officers report to H.Q." vs "enemy spies report to their masters".
    – Artemix
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 9:10
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    As for double agent - yes, he was. But in Soviet literature he was not called so - he was "a good guy", a разведчик, soviet agent. In soviet times there were no "shades of gray" - you are either enemy or friend. There could be british/german double agents or any other combination, but never "soviet/??? double agent".
    – Artemix
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 15:21
  • Ah @Artemix great thank you very much! The word "agent" makes perfect sense. If you add your comment as an answer I'll be happy to select it as the chosen one. Thanks again! Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 15:44
  • @Artemix question is re-opened, I encourage you to leave an answer
    – shabunc
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 18:06
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    There is a joke: "Разведчик - это наш, а шпион - это их". (Scout is our [man], spy is their [man]). "Our" and "their" here are countries. "Our scout" is working for our country against another country, "their spy" is working for another country against ours. The job itself is the same.
    – Dmitriy
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


Well, if sentry is "a soldier stationed to keep guard or to control access to a place", then разведчик is not sentry. If some dictionary translates разведчик as sentry, it doesn't make sense indeed. "A soldier stationed to keep guard or to control access to a place" is часовой (when he is on duty) or караульный (while not on duty).

Разведчик is either scout ("a soldier or other person sent out ahead of a main force so as to gather information about the enemy's position, strength, or movements") or spy. Spy can also be translated as шпион, but шпион has some negative connotation, while разведчик has positive connotation. For instance, a Soviet press would likely call Francis Gary Powers "шпион", but Rudolf Abel might be called "разведчик".


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