Charming, dashing and aristocratic, Dmitri Bystrolyotov’s life reads like a far-fetched spy thriller. Addicted to danger, Bystrolyotov seduced French, British and German women procuring for Joseph Stalin vital information in the years leading up to war, including, amazingly, Hitler’s plans for rearmament. He was, without question, Stalin’s most daring and successful spy.
But then, in 1938, at the height of Stalin’s purges, Bystrolyotov was arrested by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. Tortured and crippled, and made to ‘confess’ to fantastical charges, he was sentenced to 20 years hard labour. Incarcerated and broken, Bystrolyotov felt the full force of the corrupt regime he had served so loyally for so long. But always one to take risks, Bystrolyotov recorded his experience within the gulags. With the help of contacts he smuggled out, page by page, his damning first-hand account of Stalin’s labour camps.
Now, 40 years after his death, the life of Dmitri Bystrolyotov is retold in a dramatic new book, Emil Draitser’s Stalin’s Romeo Spy: The Remarkable Rise and Fall of the KGB’s Most Daring Operative. (Read more at stalinsromeospy.com).
The name is Bystrolyotov, Dmitri Bystrolyotov
Dmitri Bystrolyotov is a well-known name in Russia, an action hero for today reclaimed from the myths of yesteryear. Hailed on TV and film, subject of books and documentaries, Bystrolyotov is to Russia what James Bond is to the West but with one slight difference – Bystrolyotov was real.
Born 4 January 1901, Bystrolyotov’s belief in the Soviet cause was total. As a teenager, he watched from the sidelines as the Russian Revolution of 1917 unfurled, then spent half a decade cruising round Central Europe, looking for direction. He didn’t find it – it found him; Soviet Foreign Intelligence in Czechoslovakia recruited the 25-year-old drifter who happened to be a polyglot. Furnished with a series of false passports and different IDs, Bystrolyotov used his flair for languages to good effect in the capital cities of Europe – London, Paris and Berlin.
But it wasn’t his main tool in his box of tricks – that was in his good looks; his Clark Gable moustache, his perfect centre parting, the raised eyebrow. And armed with his looks, he seduced many an unsuspecting female into bed and into loosening their tongues. On his very own wedding night, Bystrolyotov abandoned his bride, Iolanta, in order to seduce a potentially-useful female source.
‘The wonderful garden’
He soon recruited Iolanta into his game, persuading her to sleep with an informant. She did so; doing so for the ‘greater good’, for Stalin; and then very probably hating herself for it – for she left Bystrolyotov. He told her why he played such a dangerous game – he was, he said, “swimming across a stormy river, risking his own life and drowning those who happen to be in his way”. She retorted that this “wonderful garden” was nothing more than an illusion.
Bystrolyotov returned to the Soviet Union in 1937, at the very time Stalin’s Great Purge was decimating the country like a virus. If Bystrolyotov thought his loyal and impressive contribution to the cause would provide him with immunity, he was very much mistaken. Stalin bore a deep distrust of foreigners, especially capitalist ones, and anyone who had been tainted by such foreigners. Bystrolyotov’s wife and mother, both labelled as ‘enemies of the people’ took their own lives.
He served seventeen years in the gulag during which time he met and married his second wife, before being released as part of the post-Stalin amnesty. Dmitri Bystrolyotov died 3 May 1975, aged 74.