A Twist on Russian Spy Stories

Ellen Butler‘s new novel, Operation Blackbird, was inspired by a real Soviet defector. The novel is set during the Cold War and combines a spy story with romantic suspense. I asked Ellen to talk about the real story behind Operation BlackBird.


Operation Blackbird and the character Oleg Ivanov was inspired by Soviet defector Grigori Alexandrovich Tokaev. Born in Ossetia, Russia, in 1909, Tokaev grew to become a Soviet rocketry scientist and politician. Tokaev was initially an avid pro-Communist, however, he later became disillusioned and joined a secret opposition group interested in establishing a liberal democracy. The group sought to remove Stalin from power. 

Before the war Tokaev received a doctorate in Technical Sciences and lectured at both the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy and the Moscow Engineering Institute. After Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Tokaev flew bombing raids over Stalingrad in American planes and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Following the war, he was sent to Berlin as a ranking member of the Soviet Control Commission. 

During his time in Berlin, Tokaev discovered a Soviet intelligence services plan to kidnap German rocket scientist Eugene Sänger, along with other leading Western scientists. Tokaev was not only concerned about the international political ramifications of the potential kidnapping plot, but he also began to fear his membership in the anti-Stalinist group had been discovered putting his life and those of his family in jeopardy. He reached out to British intelligence in East Berlin. Though under constant surveillance by the NKVD (the KGB precursor), in 1947, Tokaev and his family crossed into the British sector of West Berlin, seeking asylum. Unfortunately, the full, detailed story of his escape is buried in a redacted British intelligence file. 

After receiving asylum, Tokaev and his family were given false identifications and sent to live in the United Kingdom. In exchange for his Soviet military secrets, British intelligence protected the Tokaevs from potential assassination by the Soviets. After his defection, Tokaev began to use the Ossetian version of his surname, Tokaty. 

In 1953, Grigori Tokaty became a leading university lecturer on aeronautics and rocketry. During the 1960s, Tokaty was invited to consult on the Apollo Lunar mission. By 1967, Tokaty became a full professor at the City University in London, working in the Aeronautics and Space Technology Department. Throughout his time in the UK, Tokaty continued to denounce Stalin’s regime and spent time working with British intelligence on anti-Communist propaganda. Grigori Tokaty died in Surrey, England, November 23, 2003, at the age of 94.

In today’s world where Russia has attacked Ukraine and persists in its efforts to take over that country, I wonder if there are any people like Grigori Tokaev working behind the scenes as secret opposition groups. I hope so.

Many thanks for sharing the facts behind the fiction, Ellen, and best wishes for success.

Operation Blackbird by Ellen Butler ~~ Her mission could tip the balance of power…or spark World War III.

October, 1952. The war is over, but for CIA officer Miriam Becker, memories of the horrors she witnessed remain jagged in her mind. While vacationing in Argentina, recovering from a mission that nearly killed her, she’s seeing more ghosts from the past than the sights.

When a longtime family friend and fellow operative, Jake Devlin, tracks her down, Miriam is forced to push everything to the back of her mind for the next mission: help a highly prized and heavily guarded rocket scientist defect from Soviet-controlled East Berlin—right out from under the KGB’s nose.

Well aware that one wrong move could spark World War III, Miriam, Jake, and the team plan their strategy to the last detail. But when a betrayal brings everything crashing down, Jake’s quick thinking creates the diversion to get Miriam out alive—but leaves him trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

Unsure of whom she can trust, Miriam must complete the mission by relying on contacts outside of the agency, even though her heart longs to return to East Berlin to rescue the man who is the last link to her to her troubled past … before the KGB gets to him first.

You can purchase Operation Blackbird, Book 2 in the Brass Compass Series, at Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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