The Hero of the Soviet Intelligence Died in Disgrace
The magnificent career of a Soviet spy was over with just one false complaint
The Kremlin used to receive the most trustworthy information about the intention of the Nazi Germany to attack the USSR in 1941 from senior German agents. Their work was arranged by a Soviet agent, who started his career as an intelligence officer in the Far East of Russia. These days Russian security bodies in the Far East celebrate the 80th anniversary of their activities. There are a lot of publications, which say that it was agent Richard Zorge, who warned Moscow of the coming incursion of the Nazi troops. Although, very few newspapers wrote that the German agent’s efforts turned out to be wasted. Stalin did not believe that. Zorge worked both for the Soviet and for the German intelligence. Stalin had a reason not to believe that piece of information, taking into consideration the fact that he was suspicious about everything.
However, Moscow was aware of the coming invasion without the German agent. We have to go many years back in the past to start the story. It was the beginning of the year 1923. Russia’s Far East was recovering from the Japanese intervention. The war with Japan was over, although there was another war getting started. Hundreds of thousands of emigrants settled in neighboring China – presumably, they were Soviet power adversaries.
Young intelligence officer named Vasily Zarubin arrived in Vladivostok soon after the civil war ended. The young man was 28 years old, he came from a working family. He was new in security bodies, although he managed to gain some authority during that time anyway. The situation was rather difficult in the Far East in the beginning of the 1920s. Thousands of emigrants wanted to take revenge for the overthrown monarchy. In Vladivostok, Zarubin became the head of the economic department of the regional security service. He was in charge of the struggle with economic crimes, including the struggle with arms smuggle from Europe and China. It goes without saying that a Soviet intelligence officer was not at all interested in the needs of deliveries for China, taking into consideration the fact that the officer worked on the Soviet territory. Zarubin spent about two years working on that position. The central authorities of the country highly estimated his debut and sent the young officer as a resident to another town in the Far East, Kharbin. That city was considered to be the unofficial capital of the Russian eastern emigration at that time. Very little is known about that period of Zarubin’s biography. There is only one thing to mention in this respect, though: the activities of the anti-Soviet movement in China was carefully controlled by the Soviet special services. The young Soviet intelligence officer took an active part in establishing contacts with those, who wanted to help their fatherland. Zarubin did his best to prevent any attempts to transgress the Soviet border. None of those attempts was successful. This fact is the best to prove the high efficiency of Zarubin’s department.
After his work in Kharbin, Zarubin left for Europe together with his new wife Lisa, who was an intelligence officer too. At first they set up the intelligence network in Finland, then in France. In 1934 Zarubin went to Germany: Adolf Hitler came to power there, and the entire Soviet intelligence was on high alert. In Germany Zarubin found Willy Leman, a top secret Soviet agent nicknamed as Breitenbach. When a young man, Leman was a marine. He once witnessed a fight between Russian and Japanese marines. That fight impressed him a lot. He was struck with the courage of Russian marines, which made him treat Russia with sympathy. In addition to that, he had a financial interest about it too. The would-be German Gestapo official worked for the Soviet Union, although he was not happy about the cooperation for certain reasons. The new Soviet resident managed to remove all moot questions. Vasily Zarubin knew how to win people over to his own side. Breitenbach was very inspired after he talked to the Soviet agent. This article is not meant to report every little detail of Vasily Zarubin’s activity in the sanctuary of the German empire security – Gestapo. We would like to point out here that this activity eventually resulted in 14 volumes of various reports and messages. In 1937 Zarubin leaves Germany, for there were other serious tasks waiting for him. Breitenbach kept on providing the Soviet Union with secret information, although he lost a bit of his drive after Zarubin’s departure from Germany. However, Breitenbach was still at the service of the Soviet Union. On June 19th, 1941 he informed Moscow via an employee of the Soviet embassy: Hitler was going to attack the USSR on June 22, at 3:00 a.m. This was Breitenbach’s last message. In 1942 Gestapo secretly executed the German agent.
In the beginning of the year 1941 Vasily Zarubin found himself in the Far East of Russia again. His next goal was to make senior Nazi official Walter Stennes cooperate with the Soviet intelligence. It was a very hard goal to pursue. The Soviet intelligence tried to enroll Stennes many times before. The Nazi official did not mind such cooperation, although he was totally against the ideas of communism. The intention of the Soviet intelligence was complicated with the fact that Zarubin had to make Stennes become not just an informer, but a strategic player for the Soviet Union, since Nazi Germany expelled him to China. There was an opportunity for the Chinese government to develop its ties with Japan at that moment. China-based German agents conducted adequate work within the Chinese government. Stalin learned about it, so he ordered the Soviet intelligence not to allow such an alliance to happen. However, Vasily Zarubin was certain that he would win Stennes over to his side. That Nazi official was a very hard nut to crack, but it was an incredibly important goal for the USSR to achieve. If Zarubin made him cooperate, the Soviet leadership would have almost all Berlin’s secrets at its disposal. By the way, it was Stennes, who warned the USSR of the coming war with Germany. Richard Zorge’s information was just a backup of that.
The Soviet Union got Stennes. There can hardly be any information found about this agent in any books, even after the collapse of the Soviet empire. Vasily Zarubin was again called for another important mission. When German troops were going to attack Moscow in October of the year 1941, Stalin sent for Zarubin immediately. Stalin ordered Zarubin to go to the United States to take all possible measures to prevent from Hitler’s separatist agreements with Western countries. This was a likely thing to happen against the background of the Red Army’s misfortunes.
Zarubin was on a legal status in the USA: he worked three years as an embassy secretary. He made a very significant contribution to the development of relations between the USSR and the United States. To crown it all, he started fishing for nuclear secrets together with his wife Lisa. Vasily Zarubin was awarded was a high governmental award, he became a major-general. His career was over with very unexpectedly. The NKVD administration (the security department of the Soviet Union) received a complaint from a Soviet agent in New York. Someone said that Vasily Zarubin was allegedly connected with American special services. The investigation continued for more than six months and eventually identified the fraud. However, Zarubin was not allowed to leave the territory of the USSR anymore. He became the chief of some security department, and in 1948 the 54-year-old general was dismissed to the reserve, allegedly for his poor health. Vasily Zarubin lived for 26 years more and then died in 1974.
The Soviet Union celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Soviet security services in 1967. Vasily Zarubin’s name was mentioned on the list of those to be awarded with Soviet Union Hero title. This was the unanimous opinion of the state security committee. Of course, the list of those people was carefully coordinated with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Some senior official struck Zarubin’s name out of the list: “Can a man become a hero at the age of 70?” This was the explanation of the reason why. They bethought it only when the celebrations were over. Yury Andropov, that-time USSR leader, personally insisted on awarding the Lenin Order to Vasily Zarubin posthumously. A small settlement was called in his honor in Russia’s Far East, from where he started his bright career, - the settlement of Zarubino.
Vladimir Konoplitsky Vladivostok PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov