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27 March 2023

Richard Sorge – Azerbaijan’s James Bond

Learn more about Richard Sorge, widely celebrated as "the spy to end all spies." Born in Azerbaijan to Russian and German parents, he went on to influence the course of WW2.

Richard Sorge – Azerbaijan’s James Bond

Image: Bundesarchiv/Wikimedia Commons 

To John Le Carre, he was “the spy to end all spies.” Ian Flemming called him “the most formidable spy in history.” Tom Clancy described him as the “best spy of all time.” Even the prosecutor, whose job was to have him executed, declared that he had “never met anyone as great.” The man in question is Richard Sorge, or Rixard Zorge, as his name is transliterated in Baku, the city of his birth. 


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Image: Public Domain 

His great coup was to assist Moscow by becoming a renowned German orientalist, infiltrating Nazi circles in Japan, then using his position to reveal war plans shared between Berlin and Tokyo. He reputedly warned Stalin of the exact time and date Germany planned to attack the Soviet Union in 1940. Stalin infamously ignored the alert. However, while discouraged, Sorge kept sending reports from Tokyo. Later Sorge discovered that wartime Japan was not planning an imminent foray into the Russian Far East, crucial information that allowed the USSR to reassign troops to the European front, ultimately slowing Hitler’s advance and essentially changing the longer-term outcome of WWII. 

Amazingly Sorge worked in plain sight – openly dissolute, living life on a knife edge – charming yet ruthless and a shameless womanizer who seemed to be constantly forgiven by the conquests who fell for him. Much of his information was gleaned over drinking sessions with high officials who trusted him, perhaps because his outrageous behaviour simply seemed too extreme to have been the double bluff it was. Inevitably, in the end, he was caught and executed, but his life story and posthumous rehabilitation are both stranger than fiction.   

Sorge’s Formative Years 

Sorge was born in 1895 in Sabunchi, then a village on the outskirts of Baku. It’s now a sprawling high-rise suburb, but his childhood home has been preserved on what’s now known as Zorge Street.[1]