Artur Artuzov

Artur Artuzov

Artur Artuzov was born in the the Kashin district of the Tverskaya Gubernia in Russia in February 1891. According to Svetlana Chervonnaya "his father was a Swiss cheesemaker of Italian descent named Fraucci, who had moved to Russia in 1881." (1)

Artuzov studied metallurgy at St. Petersburg Polytechnical Institute. He graduated in 1916 with a diploma in metal engineering. Artuzov was a Bolshevik and after the Russian Revolution he joined the Communist Party. (2) In 1918 he joined the Red Army and fought against the White Army during the Russian Civil War. The following year he joined the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage (Cheka).

Artuzov was given the task of capturing Boris Savinkov, a former member of the Provisional Government and the man, a close friend of Sidney Reilly and a leader of the anti-Bolshevik who was involved in negotiations with Winston Churchill. Savinkov began working with the Monarchist Union of Central Russia (also known as "The Trust"). Although it appeared to be an anti-Bolshevik organisation, according to Christopher Andrew & Vasili Mitrokhin, the authors of The Mitrokhin Archive (1999), it had been "invented by Artuzov in 1921 and used as the basis of a six-year deception." (3)

Artur Artuzov & Sidney Reilly

Richard Deacon, the author of A History of the Russian Secret Service (1972) pointed out: "Boris Savinkov... was given to understand that all the plotters inside Russia were waiting for was an assurance of massive support from the anti-Bolsheviks outside Russia. Soon Savinkov's own agents were being smuggled in and out of Russia." Savinkov asked Sidney Reilly to carry out investigations into "The Trust". Reilly contacted Ernest Boyce, the head of the Russian section of MI6. Boyce confirmed that the organization was apparently a movement of considerable power within Russia. Its agents had supplied valuable intelligence to the Secret Services of a number of anti-Bolshevik countries and was convinced that it was not under the control of Cheka. (4)

The Foreign Office was unimpressed with Boris Savinkov describing him as "most unreliable and crooked". Winston Churchill replied that he thought that he "was a great man and a great Russian patriot, in spite of the terrible methods with which he has been associated". Churchill rejected the advice of his advisors on the grounds that "it is very difficult to judge the politics in any other country". With the agreement with Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the head of MI6, it was decided to send Savinkov back into Russia.

On 10th August 1924, Savinkov left for Russia. Nineteen days later Izvestia announced that Savinkov had been arrested. Over the next few months the newspaper announced that he had been condemned to death; sentence had been commuted to ten years' imprisonment and finally released. It was reported that he was living in a comfortable house in Loubianka Square. Savinkov wrote to Sidney Reilly, that he had changed his views of the Bolsheviks: "How many illusions and fairy tales have I buried here in the Loubianka! I have met men in the GPU whom I have known and trusted from my youth up and who are nearer to me than the chatter-boxes of the foreign delegation of the Social-Revolutionaries... I cannot deny that Russia is reborn." Reilly reported this in a letter that appeared in the The Morning Post on 8th September, 1924. (5) It is believed that Savinkov was killed soon after the letter was written and was part of the plot conceived by Artur Artuzov to capture Reilly.

Zinoviev Letter

Artur Artuzov was also given the task of investigating what became known as the Zinoviev Letter. In September 1924 MI5 intercepted a letter signed by Grigory Zinoviev, chairman of the Comintern in the Soviet Union, and Arthur McManus, the British representative on the committee. In the letter British communists were urged to promote revolution through acts of sedition. Hugh Sinclair, head of MI6, provided "five very good reasons" why he believed the letter was genuine. However, one of these reasons, that the letter came "direct from an agent in Moscow for a long time in our service, and of proved reliability" was incorrect. Vernon Kell, the head of MI5 and Sir Basil Thomson the head of Special Branch, were also convinced that the letter was genuine. Kell showed the letter to Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Prime Minister. It was agreed that the letter should be kept secret but someone leaked news of the letter to The Times and the Daily Mail. The letter was published in these newspapers four days before the 1924 General Election and contributed to the defeat of MacDonald and the Labour Party.

Artuzov's report was sent to Genrikh Yagoda on 11th November 1924. "According to certain information, which requires checking, the Zinoviev letter was allegedly fabricated in Riga by Lieutenant Pokrovisky, who has in his possession Comintern stationary and made it up from extracts of Zinoviev's speeches with something extra added... Pokrovsky, who is in contact with the British counter-intelligence service, told them that he had information that an important letter would be sent that day by post from Riga to an agreed address belonging to the British Communist Party, which was allegedly given to him. He then posted the letter which was duly intercepted by the British." (6) A further report on 20th November 1924 stated that it was sent "to a well-known English communist, MacManus... the British police who keeps taps on the latter's correspondence, photographed the letter and handled it over to the British Foreign Office as genuine". Nigel West, the author of The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets Exposed by the KGB Archives (1999) claims that Ivan D. Pokrovsky was the man who arranged for the Zinoviev Letter to be obtained by MI5. (7) It later became clear that Major George Joseph Ball (1885-1961), a MI5 officer, played an important role in leaking it to the press.

After a number of delays caused mainly by Reilly's debt-ridden business dealings, he met Ernest Boyce in Paris before crossing the Finnish border on 25th September 1925. At a house outside Moscow two days later Reilly had a meeting with the leaders of Monarchist Union of Central Russia, where he was arrested by the secret police. Reilly was told he would be executed because of his attempts to overthrow the Bolshevik government in 1918.

According to the Soviet account of his interrogation, on 13th October 1925, Reilly wrote to Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of Cheka, saying he was ready to cooperate and give full information on the British and American Intelligence Services. Sidney Reilly's appeal failed and he was executed on 5th November 1925. For his role in the "liquidation" of Savinkov and Reilly, Artur Artuzov was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. (8)

James Klugmann
Artur Artuzov with his daughter in the 1930s.

In August 1931, Artur Artuzov was appointed the head of Government Political Administration (GPU) foreign intelligence (commonly known as INO), where he managed to amass political, military and technical intelligence data from major Western nations. In May 1934 he became deputy head of the IV Directorate of the Staff of the GPU). He held this position until early 1937. (9)

Purge of Artur Artuzov

In 1937 Joseph Stalin became concerned that Soviet agents working abroad may be supporters of Leon Trotsky and his theory of World Revolution. 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. The AST was used to remove all those who had knowledge of the conspiracy to destroy Stalin's rivals. One of the first to be arrested was Genrikh Yagoda, the former head of the NKVD.

Within the administration of the ADT, a clandestine unit called the Mobile Group had been created to deal with those considered to be supporters of Trotsky. The head of the Mobile Group was Mikhail Shpiegelglass. By the summer of 1937, over forty intelligence agents serving abroad were summoned back to the Soviet Union. This included Arnold Deutsch, Theodore Maly, Ignaz Reiss, Alexander Orlov Yan Berzin, Artur Artuzov, Elsa Poretsky, Dmitri Bystrolyotov, Boris Vinogradov, Peter Gutzeit, Boris Bazarov, Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko and Walter Krivitsky. Maly, Berzin, Artuzov, Vinogradov, Gutzeit, Bazarov and Antonov-Ovseenko were all executed. Reiss refused to return and was murdered in Switzerland.

Artur Artuzov was also arrested and was executed on 21st August, 1937.

Primary Sources

(1) The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979)

Artuzov was an Italian of Swiss origin. He graduated from the Petrograd Polytechnical Institute (1917) and participated in the establishment of Soviet power in the north. In 1918 he was supply inspector of the northeast sector of the eastern front and also commissar and department head of the organs of counterintelligence of the Revolutionary Military Soviet of the Republic. From 1919 he held responsible posts in the central apparatus of the Cheka and GPU and was a member of their collegium. As one of the prominent directors of Soviet counterintelligence, Artuzov participated in the liquidation of the large counterrevolutionary and espionage organizations in the USSR and abroad (in particular, he supervised the liquidation of the Savinkov organization and the arrest of B. V. Savinkov). He was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.

(2) Svetlana Chervonnaya, Artur Artuzov (2008)

Artuzov was born in the village of Oustinovo, in the Kashin district of the Tverskaya Gubernia in Russia. His father was a Swiss cheesemaker of Italian descent named Fraucci, who had moved to Russia in 1881. After graduating cum laude from the Kashin gymnasium (the name for high schools in the Russian Empire), Artuzov entered the department of metallurgy at St. Petersburg Polytechnical Institute. While there, he took part in the student movement – and dreamed of a career as an opera singer. Graduating in 1916 with a diploma in metal engineering, Artuzov went to work as an engineer in Nizhny Tagil in the Urals. After the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917, he joined the RCP (b) in December of that year and got involved in revolutionary activity. In 1918, he was active in the Russian north during the Russian Civil War.

In December 1918 (or January 1919), Artuzov began his work at VChK (an acronym for the Russian name of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission), an agency created the prior year as an arm of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” to combat counterrevolution and sabotage. In May 1919, Artuzov became an operative of the Cheka Special Department, where he supervised a number of daring counter-espionage operations. In 1921, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.

From 1922 to 1927, Artuzov was the head of the GPU counter-espionage department commonly known as the KRO (a Russian acronym of its name, Kontrrazvedyvatel’nyi otdel), which organized state-of-the-art disinformation operations. Artuzov’s name is associated with such legendary operations as “Syndicate,” “Trust” and many others. Summarizing the achievements of his department in November 1924, he emphasized that it had “managed to organize its work in such a way that … 95% of the materials supplied to the military staffs of major foreign nations … were manufactured in KRO OGPU...” In addition, according to Artuzov, “a number of foreign intelligence services, particularly the Polish, Estonian and part of the Finnish,” were totally penetrated by the KRO and operated on its instructions.


(1) Svetlana Chervonnaya, Artur Artuzov (2008)

(2) The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979)

(3) Christopher Andrew & Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive (1999) page 45

(4) Richard Deacon, A History of the Russian Secret Service (1972) pages 257-258

(5) Sidney Reilly, The Morning Post (8th September, 1924)

(6) Artur Artuzov, report sent to Genrikh Yagoda (11th November 1924)

(7) Nigel West, The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets Exposed by the KGB Archives (1999) page 41

(8) The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979)

(9) Svetlana Chervonnaya, Artur Artuzov (2008)