Russia’s oldest secret agent turns 101 – and he’s not Russian


February 12, 2018 – FRN – 

Politnavigator – by Inessa Sinchougova

On February 10, the Soviet intelligence officer and saboteur Alexei Nikolaevich Botyan turned 101 years old. Colonel of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia was congratulated by colleagues:

“Today, on February 10, we congratulate you not just with another birthday, but with the first anniversary of your second century! – said the director of Russian intelligence. – “We are proud of you, you are an example! I am very glad that you are so vigorous, energetic, and surrounded by the care and love of relatives and colleagues!”

The vigor and vitality of Alexei Nikolayevich is not a figure of speech at all. Not so long ago, journalists invited Botyan to shoot from pistols “Walter-PPK”, “Stechkin” and special forces “Vul”, together with young military intelligence officers. Everyone was surprised by Botyan’s sharp eye and firm hand.

Aleksey Nikolaevich Botyan was born on February 10, 1917 in Poland, in the Belarusian village of Chertovichi. Today it is the Volozhin district of Belarus. Botyan, by the way, means “stork” in the local Belarusian dialect. 

After leaving school in 1939, Botyan was drafted to serve in the Polish army, in anti-aircraft artillery on the territory of Vilna, where he rose to the rank of non-commissioned officer.

On September 1939, after Hitler’s attack on Poland, Botyan’s contribution to the war against fascists began. Defending the skies of Warsaw, he shot down three German bombers.

After the capture of Poland by the Nazis, Botyan, along with his military unit, went to the territory liberated by the Red Army in Western Belorussia, where he surrendered.

If someone is waiting for horror stories about Soviet interrogations and repressions that struck the Belarusian from the Polish army – there weren’t any. Alexei Botyan received Soviet citizenship, completed a teacher’s qualification and returned to teach in his native village.

In May 1940, the life of the young teacher took an unexpected turn. He was asked to attend the NKVD (predecessor to KGB)  training in intelligence school. It is never stated who calls (or writes), and in what format – so we will just refer to such contact as “the force.”

In the midst of the July battles of 1941, Botyan was enlisted into the legendary special forces of the NKVD – the Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of Special Purpose (OMSBON).

Alexei Nikolaevich participated in the battle for Moscow as commander of a reconnaissance group. In the beginning of 1943, Botyan’s reconnaissance group was sent to conduct partisan special operations in the occupied territories of Central Ukraine – sabotage work.

In the Zhytomyr region, Botyan conducted a bold operation, where the German commissariat building in the city of Ovruch was blown up. Botyan’s scouts succeeded in locating and persuading a worker, by the name of Kaplyuk, to cooperate with them. Kaplyuk was responsible to the Germans for maintenance of the heating networks.

Botyan personally taught Kaplyuk to use explosives and detonators. Then, overtime, explosives were brought and hidden in the commissariat building. In total, at least 100 kg of explosives were laid under the occupied building. The explosion destroyed more than 80 of its occupants.  

This special services operation saved the lives of tens of thousands of Soviet people in the area and had a huge propaganda effect. It is even included as an example of sabotage works, in special-purpose textbooks. 

At the same time, the first time Alexei Nikolaevich Botyan was nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, this was refused by the authorities. The reason for the refusal is still unknown.

In 1944, Botyan’s group of 30 people were ordered to go to  Krakow. Thanks to the excellent knowledge of the Polish language and the customs of the Poles, the Botyan group managed to organize cooperation between the workers’ detachments of the Guards of Ludova and even such ambiguous forces as the peasants’ battalions of Khlopsk and the Poles from the Army of Craiova.

In the city of Ilzha, together with soldiers from the Guards Ludova, the Soviet intelligence officer managed to raid a prison, from which Polish patriots were liberated. There were many Soviet intelligence and sabotage groups of the GRU and the NKVD, performing a variety of tasks. This joint work together with the Polish patriots led to the fact that the Nazis failed to destroy one of the ancient centers of Slavic culture.

Botyan’s contribution in the liberation of Krakow also included the capture of Polish cartographer Ogarek, who was mobilized to serve with the Germans. It was Ogarek who  revealed valuable information about the explosive supplies in the Jagiellonian castle, which the Germans planned to use to obstruct and destroy the city’s infrastructure in the way of the advancing Red Army.

At the conclusion of the war, Botyan finished with the rank of lieutenant in Czechoslovakia. He went to study at the Prague technical school as a design engineer – but in his second year, he was once again contacted by “the force”. By then, Botyan had got married to a Volynian Czech, and under the guise of Czech immigrants – he went to serve as an illegal agent in Czech Silesia, which is on the border with West Germany.

Little is known about this episode of his life, but it is known what happened after Stalin’s death, when Botyan returned to Moscow. His front line commanders, Sudoplatov and Eitingon, were arrested, and Khrushchev’s henchmen dispersed the special forces, and asked Botyan to leave – leaving him with nothing; no apartment, and no salary to make ends meet. 

Botyan was rescued by his former front-line comrade, who arranged a job for him as “host with knowledge of foreign languages”, in a restaurant in Prague. The former secret service saboteur began working in customer service – and he worked diligently, someone of whom the management spoke highly, and his photo was on the honours board.

In 1957, he was remembered and invited to Moscow, with a proposal to continue his service as an agent. Botyan agreed an was reinstated in the special services with the rank of Major. It is known that Botyan worked against the West German intelligence, in which the fascist General Reinhardt Gehlen assembled the non-killed agents of the Abwehr, SD and the Gestapo.

In 1965, Botyan’s comrades-in-arms, who had reached certain heights in the KGB,  turned to the authorities with a petition for conferring the title of Hero of the Soviet Union to the agent, but again something stalled and misfired.

In 1983, Colonel Botyan retired, but he continued to advise the special forces of the KGB for another six years.

And only in May 2007, by the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation, the legendary special agent was awarded the long-deserved title of Hero of Russia.

Happy birthday, Alexei Botyan!

Inessa Sinchougova is an Editor and Journalist at Fort Russ News, as well as a research fellow and translator of the Belgrade based think-tank, the Center for Syncretic Studies. She was educated at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand), in the field of Political Science and was previously employed in Marketing and Communications Strategy for a Multi-National Corporation. She runs a popular YouTube channel for translations of key Russian Foreign Policy figures and appears regularly on other alternative media channels. If you like her work, you can support her Patreon here.

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