Nikolai Skoblin was born in 1892. He joined the Russian Army and remained loyal to Tsar Nicholas II after the Russian Revolution and was a supporter of General Lavr Kornilov. During the Russian Civil War he was a cavalry officer in the White Army.
According to Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001): "Skoblin commanded the famed Kornilov Division during the Civil War and had earned the distinction of being a ruthless but brave leader. His division had won many battles against the Red Army and was dreaded by the enemy because of its reputation for hanging or shooting captured Communists on the spot."
In one battle in 1919 he captured the singer and Bolshevik supporter, Nadezhda Plevitskaya. Skoblin fell in love with Plevitskaya and despite their different political beliefs they married after the defeat of the White Army in the Russian Civil War. The couple moved to Paris and Skoblin joined the Russian All-Military Union (ROVS). The organization attempted to start a national anti-communist uprising in Russia. Lieutenant-General Skoblin became the organization's intelligence chief.
Skoblin's wife remained sympathetic to the Bolsheviks and eventually persuaded her husband to change his political beliefs. Skoblin was recruited by Mikhail Shpiegelglass, a senior figure in the NKVD. It has been argued by Richard Deacon, the author of A History of the Russian Secret Service (1972) , that Skoblin was a friend of Sidney Reilly and started working for the Bolshevik secret police soon after his arrest in 1925. It was agreed that Skoblin should adopt the role as a supporter of Adolf Hitler and the rising Nazi Party in Germany.
In January 1930, General Alexander Kutyepov , the chairman of ROVS, was kidnapped on the streets of Paris. Pavel Sudoplatov later recalled: "This job in 1930 was done by Yakov Serebryansky, assisted by his wife and an agent in the French police. Dressed in French police uniforms, they stopped Kutepov on the street on the pretext of questioning him and put him in a car. Kutepov resisted the kidnapping, and during the struggle, he had a heart attack and died."
In December 1936, Nikolai Yezhov established a new section of the NKVD named the Administration of Special Tasks (AST). It contained about 300 of his own trusted men from the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Yezhov's intention was complete control of the NKVD by using men who could be expected to carry out sensitive assignments without any reservations. The new AST operatives would have no allegiance to any members of the old NKVD and would therefore have no reason not to carry out an assignment against any of one of them.
Within the administration of the ADT, a clandestine unit called the Mobile Group. Led by Mikhail Shpiegelglass, its main target was NKVD officers serving abroad who were threatening to defect. Its first victim was Ignaz Reiss who sent a letter to the Soviet Embassy in Paris explaining his decision to break with the Soviet Union because he no longer supported the views of Stalin's counter-revolution and wanted to return to the freedom and teachings of Lenin. Reiss was murdered in a village near Lausanne, Switzerland.
Nikolai Yezhov wanted to demonstrate the Mobile Group capabilities by kidnapping General Yevgeny Miller, the chairman of the Russian All-Military Union. As Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001): "Yezhov sent for Shpiegelglass, who had just returned from Switzerland after successfully arranging the assassination of KGB defector Ignaz Reiss, and asked if Shpiegelglass's Mobile Groups could handle the assignment. In the past, such assignments were handled by foreign nationals, who were members of the Communist Party of their country and associated with the Comintern; the Soviet Government could then deny any responsibility. Shpiegelglass acknowledged that the task could be done but that it would take at least three months of planning because of the strict personal environment surrounding Miller and because the vigilant French police made such an operation fraught with danger. Shpiegelglass suggested several possible scenarios for the kidnapping, but in the end Yezhov wanted immediate action. He proposed that Miller be lured under a suitable pretext to a house on the outskirts of Paris, where he would be drugged and then taken to a Soviet vessel in one of the French ports for delivery to the Soviet Union."
Mikhail Shpiegelglass met Skoblin and it was decided to lure Miller into a trap. Skoblin was the ROVS intelligence chief and he told Miller that he arranged a meeting with two German army officers based in the German Embassy who were willing to pay for any information they had on the Soviet Union. On 22nd September, 1937, Miller got in Skoblin's car and they drove to a villa which the NKVD had rented. The two German officers were in reality, Shpiegelglass and one of his agents named Valeri Kislov. Miller was over-powered and injected with a sedative. Miller was placed in a large wooden container with numerous air holes. It was taken to Le Havre and placed on the Soviet cargo ship, Marya Ulyanova. That night it took the route north of Denmark to Leningrad.
During the investigation of General Miller's disappearance, the French police found a letter indicating that the missing man had a rendezvous with Skoblin. The police arrested Nadezhda Plevitskaya but Skoblin managed to escape and was given sanctuary in the Soviet Embassy in Paris. In November he was smuggled out of the embassy and put on a Soviet vessel bound for Leningrad. The NKVD agent, Alexander Orlov claims in his autobiography, The March of Time Reminiscences ( 2004) that Skoblin was killed before he reached the Soviet Union.
Yezhov sent for Shpiegelglass, who had just returned from Switzerland after successfully arranging the assassination of KGB defector Ignaz Reiss, and asked if Shpiegelglass's Mobile Groups could handle the assignment. In the past, such assignments were handled by foreign nationals, who were members of the Communist Party of their country and associated with the Comintern; the Soviet Government could then deny any responsibility. Shpiegelglass acknowledged that the task could be done but that it would take at least three months of planning because of the strict personal environment surrounding Miller and because the vigilant French police made such an operation fraught with danger. Shpiegelglass suggested several possible scenarios for the kidnapping, but in the end Yezhov wanted immediate action. He proposed that Miller be lured under a suitable pretext to a house on the outskirts of Paris, where he would be drugged and then taken to a Soviet vessel in one of the French ports for delivery to the Soviet Union.
Shpiegelglass acceded to Yezhov's demand that immediate action be taken and proceeded to Paris, where he contacted General Nikolai Skoblin, the KGB's informant in the ROVS. Skoblin had commanded the famed Kornilov Division during the Civil War and had earned the distinction of being a ruthless but brave leader. His division had won many battles against the Red Army and was dreaded by the enemy because of its reputation for hanging or shooting captured Communists on the spot. In 1921, Skoblin had married the well-known Russian folk singer Nadezhda Plevitskaya. Soon after, they moved to Paris, where the General became one of the directors of the ROVS. It was in Paris in the late 1920s that Skoblin had been recruited by Shpiegelglass, with the help of Nadezhda, into the ranks of KGB informants. With Skoblin now in place, the KGB was able to know every move of the ROVS.
Shpiegelglass met Skoblin and a plan was soon conceived to lure Miller into a trap. Miller was to be told that two officers of the German General Staff attached to the German Embassy in Paris were interested in establishing communication with the ROVS as a means of securing information on the Soviets through the ROVS's intelligence-gathering apparatus. The Germans were prepared to pay for the information, which would appeal to the financially strapped ROVS and at the same time further its cause against the Soviets. Miller would be told that Berlin had authorised the contact with him and that it should be carried out in great secrecy so that the French Government did not learn of the liaison.
With a suitable plan now in hand, Shpiegelglass arranged to rent a villa in the environs of Paris, where Miller's meeting with the two Germans was to take place. Skoblin made his preliminary approach to Miller and found the General receptive to the idea of meeting the Germans. He also gave his word that he would tell no one. Skoblin left with the notion that he would make the final arrangements with the Germans. In the meantime, Shpiegelglass was in contact with Yezhov, who made arrangements for the Soviet merchant marine vessel S/S Maria Ulyanova, so named in honour of Lenin's sister, to make for the port of Le Havre, where it would be in position to take on the unsuspecting and unwilling passenger. The date of the operation would coincide with the arrival of the Soviet vessel at Le Havre. All the pieces were now falling into place.
The technique of "The Trust" had been re-created to combat the Trotskyites in particular, but Stalin's enemies in general. White Russians were again used to spy on both anti-Bolshevik and Trotskyite agents and at a given order to kidnap them or kill them. Sometimes kidnapping proved more effective, especially when it was a case of obtaining information. There was the case of General Eugene Miller, former chief of staff of the Czarist Fifth Army, who had gone to live in Paris. He was chairman of the Union of Russian ex-Combatants, an anti-Bolshevik White Russian organisation that had been founded by the exiled Grand Duke Nicholas. General Miller had been advised by the Union's secretary, Lieutenant-General Skoblin, that the best means of ousting the Soviet regime was to back Hitler and encourage him to wage a "liberating" war against Russia. At Skoblin's behest Miller agreed to meet two German secret agents to discuss plans. On 22 September 1937 General Miller set out to meet the Germans at a cafe on the outskirts of Paris. He was never seen again.
For a long time the Soviet Intelligence had marked down the Union of Russian Ex-Combatants as a dangerous group. It was perhaps one of the strongest remaining White Russian organisations with a membership approaching 80,000. Seven years earlier the Russians, disguising themselves as French gendarmes, had kidnapped the former head of the Union, General Kutyepoff. No trace of him had ever been found.
It was the same with General Miller. Inquiries by the French police, prompted by strong representations from the Union, revealed that Miller had gone to Le Havre. There the trail ended, but coincidentally a Soviet cargo ship, Marya Ulyanova, left Havre the night he arrived there.
Vast sums were spent by the Soviet Secret Service in carrying out these kidnappings and killings. The organising of the quest for Ignace Reiss and his murder, it has been estimated, cost not less than £20,000, while Innostranny Otdyel (the dreaded Executive Branch for Terror and Diversion) spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on similar killings and kidnappings during the 'thirties, many of them carried out in distant lands.
Almost always there is the sinister figure of a "White" Russian among the men controlled by the Innostranny Otdyel. In the case of General Miller it turned out to be Lieutenant-General Skoblin, who had posed as a right-wing reactionary, sympathetic to Hitler and anxious for a "liberating" war against Russia. The two "Germans" who Skoblin had arranged should meet Miller were Soviet agents as indeed was Skoblin himself. He denied any knowledge of a plot and indignantly defended himself before a committee meeting of the Union, but shortly afterwards he disappeared from Paris and later was heard to be in Moscow. The interesting fact emerges from this story that Skoblin had been a friend of Sidney Reilly and an active Soviet agent from a date shortly after Reilly was arrested in Russia.