Obituary: Viktor Louis
Tuesday 21 July 1992
VIKTOR LOUIS was an avowed anti-Communist but worked successfully for those at the top of the Soviet system: the Government under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the Soviet Foreign Ministry and the KGB. His was a unique case: a Soviet citizen who was not even a Party member, and was never paid by the KGB, and worked for 30 years for the London Evening News (and later the Evening Standard), the Washington Post, the New York Times, Time magazine, France-Soir and many other papers, freely associating with foreigners, having a foreign wife and driving foreign cars.
He was born Vitaly Evgenyevich Louis, in Moscow, in 1928. His non-Russian name derived from a Prussian grandfather, who was from Keningsberg (later Kaliningrad). He was arrested at the age of 19, while a student. The reason for the arrest remains unclear and he spent nine years in various camps of the Gulag. The KGB defector Major Yuri Nosenko suggested in 1964 that Louis was recruited while in the camps. He was approached, no doubt. The KGB always tried, but what sort of agreement there was between them remains unknown. There is no doubt that there was an agreement, because in 1956, out of the blue, Louis, then aged 28, started driving a Volkswagen around Moscow, wearing foreign suits and visiting a bar at the American Embassy club under the full surveillance of the KGB. It was there that he used to meet foreigners. Anyone else behaving in such a fashion would have been arrested and accused of spying.
He worked for the New Zealand, then the Brazilian Embassy, and as a secretary to Edmund Stevens, the American-born journalist then working for the Sunday Times. He was allowed to extend his contacts to the highest echelons of Soviet society and gather news, but the price, it appears, was that the KGB wanted him to 'leak' their doctored news.
The first, and serious, scoop he brought off was the 'retirement' of Nikita Khrushchev in October 1964. This information came no doubt through Khrushchev's son Sergei, whom Louis knew, rather than from the KGB. Once, Khrushchev's daughter Rada mentioned to me that Sergei used Louis to get their father's tapes out of the Soviet Union to the West.
In 1968, just a few months before the publication of Twenty Letters to a Friend by Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva (who had defected earlier to the West), Louis brought out the KGB's pirated copy to damp the sensation. He was known to have carried out other, similar operations. The Moscow intelligentsia hated and boycotted him. During perestroika and glasnost - with which his activities, now redundant, ended - the Russian press continued to attack him. He was the author of several travel information and guide books, including a useful directory for the capital, Information Moscow, and the money they brought him was sufficient to maintain his always lavish way of life. In the 1960s he started buying Russian icons and other valuable Russian antiques.
In 1965 he bought a magnificent country house on a large estate in Peredelkino, which had always been a colony for writers, such as Boris Pasternak. It was there, that he entertained foreign journalists and small circle of friends. A carpet that had belonged to Catherine the Great lay on the floor of his living-room. He married a girl from Dorking, Jennifer Statham, who at the time was a nanny to a British diplomat.
His last years he lived quietly in his country house, avoiding the Russian press, from time to time going abroad, mainly to Switzerland for treatment to his liver. If he has left his memoirs no doubt he will have disclosed many mysteries about himself; others may yet be disclosed by the KGB archives.
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