Boris Gudz

Oldest living Soviet spy

Boris Ignatyevich Gudz, intelligence officer: born Ufa, Russia September 1902; died Moscow 27 December 2006.

Boris Gudz was not only the oldest living Soviet spy. He was also the last surviving participant in Trest, one of the most brilliant counter-intelligence operations in espionage history, that lured the celebrated British agent Sidney Reilly among many others to their doom.

Trest ("the Trust") was created in 1921 by the Cheka, the original Bolshevik state security service, as a fake organisation of supposed Tsarist sympathisers, whose purpose was to identify and eliminate foreign and domestic enemies of Bolshevism. Its greatest coup was the capture in 1925 of Reilly, who was perceived by Felix Dzerzhinsky, Cheka's founder, as one of his most dangerous foes.

The Russian-born Reilly - said to have been an inspiration for Ian Fleming's James Bond, and later known as "the ace of spies" - was an extraordinarily colourful figure: businessman, womaniser, and inventor of bizarre schemes to overthrow the infant Soviet state. Gudz had only a modest role in his downfall, as a courier for Eduard Opperput, one of the agents who in September 1925 enticed Reilly across the Finnish border into the Soviet Union, supposedly to make contact with representatives of Trest.

Instead he was captured and taken to Moscow, where he was imprisoned at the Lubyanka prison, headquarters of the OGPU (as the Cheka was now called). There Reilly was interrogated before being shot (according to the official Soviet account) in Sokolniki park on 3 November 1925. The execution was said to have been on the personal orders of Stalin.

The son of an anti-Tsarist activist, Gudz had joined Lenin's Bolshevik party at a very young age, and fought in the civil war that followed the 1917 Communist revolution. He was only 21 when in 1923 a family friend offered him a job at the OGPU. He moved steadily higher in the organisation, and by 1932 was placed in charge of OGPU intelligence and counter-intelligence in east Siberia, where he led several operations against Japan and planned the capture of the Cossack commander Topkhayev.

In 1934 Gudz was sent to Tokyo as an OGPU resident agent. There he worked closely with Richard Sorge, the legendary Soviet agent who, posing as a German journalist, was setting up his spy ring in those years. After his return to Moscow in 1936, Gudz continued to co-ordinate the work of Sorge, who would later provide Stalin with unmatched (and often unheeded) information, including the exact date of the June 1941 Nazi invasion.

By then, Gudz was no longer on the scene. After his sister was arrested in Stalin's purges in April 1937, he was expelled from the Communist Party and dismissed from the OGPU. Unlike many of his colleagues, however, he survived. The former agent took up work as a bus driver in Moscow, but was soon restored to the Party and promoted to become head of a large road transport company. In later life he was an adviser on historical projects about Soviet espionage, regaling new generations of spies with stories about Dzerzhinsky and the other giants of early Soviet intelligence.

In the end, his life had a perfect chronological symmetry. Boris Gudz was born 15 years before the Soviet Union was born, and lived through its entire existence. He died almost 15 years to the day after the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

Rupert Cornwell

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