12 April 2006

Targeting Russian Émigrés, 1920s

This period [the early 1920s] was one of intense secret operations abroad mounted by INO (Inostrannyi Otdel), the Foreign Intelligence Department of the OGPU. Even after the destruction of the White armies, Lenin was determined to pursue counter-revolution abroad. In December 1920, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Cheka, had begun to organize operations against émigré groups in France and Germany. Berlin alone contained 200,000 White Russian refugees.

Relatives of prominent émigrés were seized as hostages at home and agents were rapidly recruited for operations abroad to infiltrate émigré organizations and arrange the kidnapping of their leaders. A sophisticated development was to create fake White Guard organizations within Russia to trap the regime's enemies. These activities were given the highest priority. For the first dozen years of its life, INO's 'main foreign target remained the White Guard movement'.

The White Guard movement was directed from Paris by the Russian combined Services Union (ROVS), led by General Kutepov, who was kidnapped in Paris by OGPU agents in January 1930. A successor, General Miller, was also kidnapped in December 1936. He was taken back to the Soviet Union drugged inside a trunk, interrogated, tortured and then shot. The émigré world of White Russians in the early 1920s was a political demi-monde of agents and double agents, mostly working for the OGPU. Homesick White Russians in Paris and Berlin, many of them well-born officers working at night as taxi drivers, were prepared to betray their closest friends for the chance of what they thought was a guarantee of safe conduct home....

The Russian émigré community in Berlin was more like a colony, largely because it was so concentrated on the western centre of the city. Berliners jokingly called the Kurfürstendamm the Nöpski Prospekt', and Charlottenburg was known as 'Charlottengrad'. Writers including Vladimir Nabokov, Ilya Ehrenburg and Boris Pasternak treated the cafés of the area, such as the Prager Diele, in the same way as French existentialists later used the cafés of Saint-Germain. There were around 200 Russian-language newspapers, magazines and journals in Berlin, a number of publishing houses and even a Russian high school. But this already precarious community was to be devastated and scattered within a decade by the economic crisis and unemployment triggered by the Wall Street Crash.
SOURCE: The Mystery of Olga Chekhova: The true story of a family torn apart by revolution and war, by Antony Beevor (Penguin, 2005), pp. 95-97

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