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Leonid Shebarshin (seen here in 1991) recently celebrated his 77th birthday
A former head of the Soviet KGB foreign intelligence branch, Leonid Shebarshin, has apparently shot himself dead aged 77, Russian prosecutors and police say.

Shebarshin was found dead with a gunshot wound at his flat in central Moscow, a ceremonial pistol by his side, police told news agencies.

A suicide note was reportedly also found at the scene.

A veteran of Soviet intelligence in South Asia and Iran, he led the KGB's First Chief Directorate from 1989-91.

In 1991, he replaced coup plotter Vladimir Kryuchkov for two days as overall head of the KGB before he resigned himself, as the new post-Communist authorities set about dismantling the organisation.

As head of KGB operations in post-revolutionary Iran, he was expelled along with fellow officers in 1983.

Previously he had served in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Russian media reports say.

Shebarshin celebrated his 77th birthday on 24 March.

The doorkeeper at his apartment block told reporters the former KGB chief had lived alone since the death of his wife a few years ago.

"Shebarshin was friendly and good-natured," he told Itar-Tass news agency.

"He always said hello but you could see his health was failing."

Russian prosecutors said an investigation into a possible suicide was under way.