Bazarov, Boris Yakovlevich (real name Shpak, 1893-1939)

Boris Bazarov

Boris Bazarov

A Soviet OGPU foreign intelligence (known as INO) “illegal” operative in the 1920s and 1930s.

The name “Boris Spaak” or “Spak” first appeared on the radar of US authorities in June 1939, when the Soviet defector Walter Krivitsky was interviewed by a representative of the U.S. Department of State. Here is Krivitsky’s fascinatingly garbled account, as it appears in FBI files:

The chief of the Soviet military intelligence in the United States traveled on the NORMANDIE, first class, from New York May 8, 1937, using a Greek passport. His real name is Boris Spaak or Spak. He is about 48 years of age, a former officer in Wrangel’s Army, who in 1920 went over to the Soviet intelligence work. He is a highly intelligent man and came to the United States around 1934-1935. 1

Boris Shpak was born in 1893 in the Kovno Gubernia of the Russian Empire (now Byelorussia), to the family of a postal employee. After the family moved to Vilno, he finished the local “real school” (a Russian secondary school which emphasized the teaching of the sciences) and graduated in 1914 from the Vilno infantry school. Soon after the graduation ball, he was sent to the German front in World War I. By the end of 1914 he had been promoted to platoon commander and won an award for courage in combat, but in 1915 he became a German POW. He was unable to return to Russia until after the German revolution of November 1918. He then went to the south of Russia, where he was mobilized into the White army, which fought on the Southern front in the Russian Civil War. After the defeat of the White forces in late 1920, he emigrated first to Turkey and then to Berlin.

In early 1921, Bazarov approached the Soviet Embassy in Berlin to ask for repatriation to the Soviet Union. In return, the Soviets asked him to go back to Turkey to gather information about the situation among the émigré forces of the former Wrangel army. (Bazarov indicated in the autobiography he wrote in Moscow in August 1937 that this was the beginning of his work for INO OGPU). When his mission to Turkey had been successfully completed, Bazarov was sent to Vienna to organize underground groups in Bulgaria and other countries in the Balkans. It is not clear when he changed his name from Shpak to Bazarov. In any case, he was an outstanding young man who was fluent in German and French and soon learned Bulgarian and Serbian. From March 1921 to 1924, he worked as an “illegal” in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, where he established underground groups of sources which provided political, economic and military information on the Balkan region. From November 1924 to December 1925, he worked out of the Soviet Embassy in Vienna, supervising groups of “illegal” agents operating in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Rumania.

On his return to Moscow in December 1925, Bazarov, as he was then known, became a full-time employee of the INO and the head of its Balkan section. In June 1927 he became a candidate for membership in the Communist Party (VCP (b)) ( becoming a full member in 1930). Around that time he was awarded honor arms with the engraving, “For devotion to the cause of the proletarian revolution.” In July 1927, however, Bazarov suddenly resigned from INO OGPU and worked as an economist until April of the next year. In his autobiography, he explained that the strain of “illegal” work had brought on a nervous breakdown, forcing him to change his occupation temporarily. Bazarov returned to INO OGPU in April 1928 and was sent to Berlin, which was then the major base for Soviet intelligence operations, including in the Balkans. He was assigned a new code name, “Kin.” (Later, he used the code name “Da Vinci.”) His assignments included obtaining information from British and French sources. One of the “illegal” residencies he organized operated in Great Britain. He also managed to establish an “illegal” group in Paris, which reportedly provided valuable information. Throughout this time, he continued to obtain information from his Balkan sources. His achievements of this period reportedly included recruiting a cipher clerk in the British Foreign Office to serve as a Soviet source.

In 1934 Bazarov returned to Moscow and began work as a section chief at the Moscow INO headquarters. In 1935, following the sudden death in August 1934 of Valentin Markin, the OGPU foreign intelligence resident in New York, Bazarov was dispatched to New York to take Markin’s place, this time with the code name “Nord.” According to a reference in the files of the SVR that was cited in a recent Russian publication,

…under the leadership of B. Ya. Bazarov, the illegal residency [in the United States] had recruited several valuable agents, with direct access to the employees of the Department of State, and obtained from them information on a wide range of issues. A unique source with contacts was acquired in the circle of President Roosevelt; [that source] provided information on the position of the ruling circles of the country [the United States] at a time when a military conflict was brewing in Europe.

The same publication cited a notation in Bazarov’s personal file: “Has mastered his operational skills to perfection.” 2 Besides Bazarov himself, his resident station included three operatives: Iskhak Akhmerov (“Jung“), Norman Borodin (“Granite“) and A. Samsonov, about whom there is no information. Among the agents recruited during Bazarov’s tenure in the United States was an important source at the Department of Justice, as well as sources at a number of other federal agencies and among congressional staff — including one congressman, Samuel Dickstein.

In March 1937, Bazarov was promoted to the rank of Major GB, the equivalent of the rank of Combrig in the Red Army or Brigadier General in some Western countries. In June or July 1937, his fortunes suddenly changed, and he was recalled to Moscow for a Communist Party vetting, which lasted from August 1937 to March 1938. Although he withstood the party purge, Bazarov was arrested on July 3, 1938. On February 21, 1939, he was sentenced to death for “espionage and treason” and executed the same day. He was charged, absurdly, with having served as an agent of the German and French intelligence services since 1924. He was rehabilitated posthumously in December 1956. 3

  1. John Edgar Hoover to Legal Attaché, London, England, April 28, 1948, in Walter G. Krivitsky FBI File, No. 100-11146, Section 2, PDF p. 18 (p. 3 of the document).
  2. Bazarov’s SVR personal file, cited in: Vladimir Sergeev, “Da Vinchi sovetskoi vneshnei razvedki.” – Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie (NVO), 10 ijunja 2006. (Vladimir Sergeev, “The Da Vinci of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence.” – The Independent Military Review, June 10, 2006; .)
  3. The details of Bazarov’s life story vary in different accounts. The most reliable dating is provided on his Communist Party registration card and in two “autobiographies” he wrote in August and October 1937, found in the Boris Bazarov Communist Party “vetting” file, fund 17, description 97, file 76, pp. 3-5, 9-18, 20-24., RGASPI. Additional details were established by crosschecking several accounts of Bazarov’s life, including: the Bazarov biography on the SVR RF website (http://svr.gov.ru/history/baz.html); a brief biographical reference in V.M. Lurie, V.Ya. Kochik, GRU: Dela i ljudi. Moskva: Olma-Press, 2003, s. 340. (V.M. Lurie, V.Ya. Kochik, GRU: Deeds and People. Moscow: Olma-Press, 2003, p. 340.) Bazarov’s bio appears in the GRU reference book due to a confusion dating back to Krivitsky’s misidentification of Bazarov’s affiliation. Among other publications consulted for this bio reference are: V.L. Pescherski, “V amerikanskoi tsitadeli,” – Ocherki istorii rossiiskoi vneshnei razvedki, t. 3, 1933-1941, ss. 175-176. (V.L. Peschersky, “In the American Citadel,” in Essays on the History of Russian Foreign Intelligence, vol. 3, 1933-1941, pp. 175-176.); and Teodor Gladkov. Nash chelovek v Nju-Jorke. Sud’ba rezidenta. Moskva: “Jauza”/”Eksmo”, 2007, ss. 82-84. (Theodore Gladkov, Our Man in New York: The Fate of a Resident. Moscow: “Jauza”/”Eksmo”, 2007, pp. 82-84.)