Legendary Soviet WWII Spy Gevork Vardanian Dies at 87

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MOSCOW (Agence France Presse) — One of the legendary Soviet agents of World War II, who infiltrated a British spy school and protected the “Big Three” in the Tehran conference, died at age 87 of cancer here on January 10, Russia’s intelligence service said Wednesday.

Gevork Vardanian, working under the codename Amir, in 1942 managed to attend an entire British training course for Russian-speaking spies in Tehran whom London then wanted to send all over the Soviet Union.

According to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) — the successor to the Soviet KGB — his work helped expose the British network, which existed despite London’s wartime alliance with Moscow.

But Vardanian’s greatest exploit was his role in ensuring security at the 1943 conference in Tehran between the Allied “Big Three” of Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President F.D. Roosevelt that started to draw up the map of postwar Europe.

Vardanian — only 19 at the time — led a group of young Soviet agents who exposed in its early stages a Nazi plot codenamed “Operation Long Jump” to assassinate the three Allied leaders at the conference.

“Everyone in foreign intelligence will remember Gevork Andreyevich for his overwhelming love for the motherland and his fidelity to his duty,” the spokesman of the SVR, Sergei Ivanov, said in a statement.

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev described Vardanian as a “legendary spy, a true patriot of his country and an extraordinary personality. He participated in stunning special operations which have gone down in the history of our foreign intelligence,” he said in a letter of condolence to Vardanian’s family.

The SVR said in a statement on its website that Vardanian died on Tuesday. A source in the service told the state RIA Novosti news agency that he died at a Moscow hospital Tuesday afternoon.

During a life remarkable even by the standards of a spy and parts of which are still shrouded in secrecy, Vardanian worked in tandem with his wife, Gohar, who was also an agent.

According to the SVR, they worked undercover together for 30 years in different foreign countries as “illegals” after World War II.

The SVR still gives no specifics about this work, saying only that it was in “extreme conditions” and in “complicated circumstances.”

They only returned to the Soviet Union in 1986 with Vardanian continuing to work in the service until 1992.

“Everything we did was important for the motherland. But the most important things cannot be discussed at the moment,” he said before his death in comments broadcast by Channel One television.

He was born in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, the son of an Iranian factory owner of Armenian origin, and received top honors from the Soviet Union as well as Russia and Armenia for his work.

His father had also carried out espionage work for the Soviet Union and it was for this that he took the family back to Iran in the 1930s.

By the age of 16 the young Vardanian was already working to expose “Fascist spies” in Iran.

The funeral took place January 13 in Moscow. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended the ceremony.

Director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service Mikhail Fradkov, former directors of the service Yevgeni Primakov and Sergey Lebedev, Armenia’s ambassador to Russia, representatives of the Armenian community were also present at the ceremony. Vardanian was buried in Moscow’s Troyekurovskoye cemetery.

Vladimir Putin laid flowers at Vardanian’s grave and talked with his relatives.

Earlier Putin had sent a condolence message to the relatives of Vardanian that said in part:  “Gevorg A Vardanian had a bright life full of heroic events. He was a high level professional who created legendary pages in the history of intelligence.”

 

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