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Putin attends funeral of legendary WWII Soviet spy

RIA Novosti

14:47 13/01/2012 MOSCOW, January 13 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday attended the funeral of a legendary World War II Soviet agent, Gevork Vartanyan, who is believed to have saved the lives of Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt during the Tehran Conference in 1943.

A Hero of the Soviet Union, Vartanyan passed away on Tuesday aged 87. Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), a top KGB successor agency, said Vartanyan died of an unspecified illness.

Vartanyan, whose father was a Soviet intelligence agent residing in Tehran, began working for Soviet intelligence at the age of 16, according to the SVR.

His greatest exploit was his role in ensuring security at the 1943 conference in Tehran where the Allied "Big Three" of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President F.D. Roosevelt started to draw up the map of postwar Europe.

Vartanyan, aged just 19 at the time, led a group of young Soviet agents who exposed a Nazi plot, codenamed Operation Long Jump, aimed to assassinate the three Allied leaders.

Long Jump was said to be under the direction of German Waffen-SS commander Otto Skorzeny, a notorious saboteur and spy who earlier in 1943 had helped Mussolini escape to Germany after Italy surrendered to the Allies. The operation has never been fully detailed, and some historians doubt that it even existed. However, Soviet and Russian sources have insisted at least since the late 1960s that it was real.

Putin arrived at Moscow’s Troekyrovskoye Cemetary and laid flowers at Vartanyan’s grave. He also spoke with Vartanyan’s relatives.

Incumbent SVR head Mikhail Fradkov and several of his predecessors, as well as the Armenian Ambassador to Russia and former colleagues, were among those who came to pay their last tribute to the spying legend.

"Everyone in foreign intelligence will remember Gevork Andreyevich [Vartanyan] for his overwhelming love for the motherland and his fidelity to his duty," SVR spokesman Sergei Ivanov said in a statement.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev described Vartanyan as a "legendary spy, a true patriot of his country and an extraordinary personality."

Vartanyan and his wife worked as intelligence agents in several countries between the early 1950s and 1986, but did not name them. After retiring in 1992, Vartanyan helped train young intelligence agents, the SVR said.

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