MOSCOW — Gevork Vartanian, a former Soviet intelligence agent who helped derail a Nazi plot to assassinate allied leaders at a 1943 conference in Tehran, has died. He was 87.
Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, a top KGB successor agency, said Vartanian died of an unspecified illness Tuesday.
President Dmitry Medvedev sent condolences to Vartanian’s widow, Goar, who worked together with him on intelligence missions abroad and helped cement their fame as a legendary Russian spy couple.
Medvedev praised Vartanian on Wednesday as a legendary figure who participated in “brilliant special operations which became part of history of the nation’s foreign intelligence.”
The Foreign Intelligence Service said Vartanian, whose father was a Soviet intelligence agent in Tehran posing as a merchant, began working for Soviet intelligence when he turned 16. He played a role in foiling a Nazi plot to assassinate Soviet leader Josef Stalin, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when they held a conference in Tehran in November 1943.
Adolf Hitler ordered operation “Long Jump” after the Nazi intelligence learned of the conference. Vartanian’s group shadowed an advance team of Nazi agents, who arrived to set the ground for the mission, helping uncover the plot.
The Foreign Intelligence Service, which goes under its Russian acronym SVR, said that acting on orders from Moscow, Vartanian also joined a British intelligence school in Tehran and obtained information about its graduates sent to the Soviet Union, allowing Soviet authorities to catch them.
The SVR said Vartanian and his wife worked as intelligence agents in several countries between the 1950s and 1986, but didn’t name them. They got married several times in different places as part of their cover.
The ITAR-Tass news agency said they worked in Iran, Italy, France and Greece among other nations.
Vartanian received the highest Soviet award, the Hero of the Soviet Union medal. After retiring in 1992, Vartanian helped train young intelligence agents, the SVR said. Vartanian’s wife also has been honored with medals.
Funeral plans weren’t immediately available.