The Russian Powerbrokers: Alexandr Kazem-Bek, the Chavchavadze, the Gatchina Group
In this chapter, we discuss the key role played by a group of people interconnected by family links, personal friendships, and shared political worldviews. In this group we found many of the main protagonists whose destiny and that of their children we will be following until nowadays: the famous Alexandr Kazem-Bek, the Chavchavadze family and, linked to it, the Klimovs, Boris Glazunov, Nikolai Rutchenko, and Pavel Delle. With one exception, that of Mikhail Chavchavadze, who seems to have worked with Nazi occupants in Paris only for financial reasons, all the other protagonists have been engaged in collaborationism, some with some cautiousness, like Kazem-Bek, others with enthusiasm, in charge of diversion operations on the Eastern Front and then working for the Vlasov army.
Mikhail Nikolaevich Chavchavadze (1898-1965), who belongs to the Kvareli branch of the family, was raised in St Petersburg and graduated from the Page Corps before became a cornet in the Life-Guards Horse Grenadier Regiment on February 1, 1917, shortly before the fall of the monarchy, where he served there only for two months.³ After the Bolsheviks seized power in Georgia in 1921, he left for Europe. In exile among White Russians in Constantinople, he married his second wife, Lyubov Vladimirovna Hvolson (1893-1984), who worked for the Russian consulate there. In 1922, the couple left for Paris, where they settled in Asnières, near Paris. In 1923 he became the secretary of Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich.

While in Asnières, they lived with their relatives, the Benningsen family. Lyubov Hvolson was the sister-in-law of Count Adam Pavlovich Bennigsen (1882–1946). From German Baltic origin, Adam also graduated from the Page Corps, participated in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–1905, and was fond of Oriental Studies—a passion he passed on to his son Alexandr Bennigsen. During WWI, Adam was an officer of the Life Guards of the Cavalry Regiment. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he fought in the Volunteer Army, first under the leadership of Lavr Kornilov and, later, under Anton Denikin. From August to November 1919, Adam commanded the 1st Guards Consolidated-Cuirassier Regiment fighting in Crimea.

In 1920 Adam was evacuated from Novorossiysk to Turkey, on the island of Proti. He worked in the Red Cross in Gallipoli and later left for France with his family through Estonia. His wife Feofania Vladimirovna Bennigsen (née Hvolson,1887-1969), originally from Revel, worked as a nurse of mercy in the St. Petersburg community. In 1921, Adam Pavlovich began working as an accountant in the company Liano Film. In the same year he entered the board of the Union for the Liberation and Revival of Russia. Three years later, he was consecrated to the Freemasonic Lodge "Northern Lights" and "Friends of the Lubosity".³ The Bennigsen family was very active in the life of the Orthodox parish of Asnières.
Adam Benningsen was following closely the Mladorossy but we have no account of his direct involvement in it.³

In 1932, Mikhail Chavchavadze and his wife moved to Saint-Briac, in Bretagne, to live with Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich, as Mikhail continued to be his personal assistant. Kirill and Viktoria Fedorovna became the godparents to Mikhail’s first son, Nikolai (1933). While in Saint-Briac, Mikhail befriended Alexandr Kazem-Bek and started an affair with his sister, Maria Lvovna Kazem-Bek, married Nekrassova (1910–1989). Mikhail left his second wife, Lyubov, for Maria at the end of the 1930s, but was unable to divorce; he officially married her only once back in the Soviet Union in 1947. Together with Maria they had a son, Zurab (1943), whose godfather was Kazem-Bek.⁴ Mikhail and Mara, then living in Porte Maillot, Paris, were known to keep a Bohemian lifestyle that consisted of parties, music, and alcohol.⁴¹ Mikhail was one of the founding members of Mladorossy—his name appeared at the founding congress of 1923⁴²—but we have not found any detail on his activities for the movement.

Once Nazi troops invaded France in June 1940, Mikhail, always in need of money to sustain his way of life, began to do clandestine trade for German soldiers.⁴³ As a cousin of Mikhail Chavchavadze's second wife Alexander Nekrasov, who lived with them, recalls, during the Nazi occupation of Paris:

Mikhail was engaged in 'black' trade with the Germans, receiving ten percent of the turnover... He was [...] an incorrigible kettler. Always penniless, he borrowed from everyone and never gave it back. Mara was an exalted person, ready for any kind of craziness. Beautiful, intelligent, with the temperament of Carmen, she threw herself into life without looking back... In an argument it was never clear which side she would take, and yet she was never sly... They would come back by 8 am after another crazy night and slept until 4 pm...⁴⁴

No sources state that he collaborated politically with the Nazis; however, Alexandr Ugrimov (1906–1981), a Mladorossy member of the Resistance Durdan group that operated from 1941 to 1944, wrote in his memoirs that Mikhail agreed with some Resistance groups and supported the Soviet side against Nazis.⁴

While Mikhail’s political positioning seems ambiguous, on the other side of the Chavchavadze’s lineage, the Tsinandale branch, several figures directly engaged in collaborationism: Georgii Ben-Chavchavadze, Spiridon Chavchavadze, David ‘Dodik’ Chavchavadze, and Yurii Tregubov, also a Chavchavadze, were all on the Nazi payroll, directly or through Vlasov’s army.

Georgii Nikolaevich (Ben-) Chavchavadze (1921-1997) was born in Kharkov at the end of the civil war. His father was Nikolai Chavchavadze, a White officer who refused to leave Crimea in 1921, went back to Kharkov to see his pregnant wife, and got killed by the Bolsheviks.⁴ To avoid his family being marked by its aristocratic origin, Georgii and his mother were proposed by family frends to add the suffix Ben to their Georgian family name.⁴ After his childhood in Soviet Union, Georgii was exchanged as a Volksdeutsche (through a second marriage to a German), together with his mother, for Austrian communists in 1938.⁴ His family was selected for exchange because his mother remarried a German diplomat, Herman Strekker (1898–??? Arrested in 1945, no date for his death), an adviser to the secretary of the German mission in Ukraine, working for Friedrich-Werner von der Schulenburg (Kharkov was Ukraine's capital until 1934).⁴

Schulenburg has been involved in promoting Georgian independence from Russia since the early 1910s. In 1911, he was appointed imperial consul of Germany in Tbilisi and rapidly convinced Berlin that mountainous populations, in particular Chechens, could be activated to destabilize the tsarist regime. In 1915, he was posted head of the Caucasian insurrection movement and the Georgian Legion, officially as "Liaison Officer for the Caucasus," coordinating all actions on the southern flank of the Russian front and recruiting Caucasian POWs in German camps. He supported the proclamation of Georgia's independence on May 26, 1918 by the Georgian National Assembly, and immediately concluded treaties with the local Menshevik government to secure German economic assets in the new republic. He may then have been in touch with Spiridon Chavchavadze through von Kressenstein (see below). When Schulenburg was appointed last German ambassador to the Soviet Union before the invasion of 1941, he knew very well the Caucasus and it is therefore not a surprise that one of his advisers married a Chavchavadze.

Once in Germany, Georgii was given the German nationality through his adopted father. In 1940, he graduated from a German military school, and became commander of the reconnaissance squadron of the Wehrmacht's 56 th Panzer Corps which participated in hostilities on the Eastern Front.¹ His job was to attract Russian volunteers to the squadron. He visited the Dabendorf School of Vlasov's ROA—attended by 5,000 cadets, destined to become ROA's officer corps—several times, but, according to his recollections, he was new to it.⁵² George became an active member of the NTS. He forwarded leaflets of the NTS to the Soviet zone, and edited the journal Soiuz for the Union for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia.³

The 56th Panzer Corps, where he served, was destroyed during the Soviet Vizsla-Order operation. Georgy and a part of the Russian squadron retreated to the 1st Russian Division of Vlasov, which was based in Münsingen, in Baden-Württemberg.⁵⁴ In February 1945, Georgy was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division of the KONR Armed Forces (600. Infanteriedivision Fremd russische). He served in the 1600th separate reconnaissance division (Russische Einzel - Aufklarungsabteilung 1600), commanded by Major B. A. Kostenko. He personally met with S.K. Bunyachenko, about whom he left an extremely positive comment. In May 1945, he participated in the Prague offensive on the side of Czech rebels against Nazi troops.⁵⁵ After the dissolution of his division on May 12, 1945, he went east with a group of subordinates, and, until August, participated in partisan anti-communist resistance in Slovakia and Galicia.

Another Chavchavadze, Spiridon Chavchavadze (1878–1954), had a completely different political trajectory, yet, also engaged with the Nazis. A Colonel who graduated from the St. Petersburg Officer Cavalry School, Spiridon first served as an officer in the Dragon regime in Tver, before participating in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 and in the First World War. In 1918, he returned to Georgia to lead the 1st Cavalry Regiment. In May of that year, the government of independent Georgia awarded him the rank of general. From 1918 to 1921, Chavchavadze was the head of the repair department of the General Staff. On February 27, 1921, two days after the establishment of Soviet power in Georgia, Spiridon was sent to Petrograd along with 25 other officers of the Menshevik army and from there on to a special camp near Ryazan for White officers.

After five months in captivity, Spiridon was released and returned to his ancestral home in Tsinandali where he actively participated in the national liberation movement, under the pseudonym Arcade. In August 1924, he was promoted to the head of the armed uprising, in which the Mensheviks fought against the Bolsheviks.⁵⁶ Once defeated, he crossed the border into Turkey and travelled to France.

From 1924–1947 Spiridon lived in Paris and was a regular visitor among Mikhail and Mara’s circles.⁵⁷ Among emigrants, he enjoyed great authority and popularity as one of the main characters in the August Uprising. In 1925, accompanied by Kakuts Cholokashvili (1888–1930)—one of the independence leaders in 1921 and a member of the Georgian guerilla until 1924—Spiridon arrived in Poland to discuss financial assistance in the fight against the Soviet regime with the Polish government. Read more: Poland’s support for Georgian independence and anti-Soviet activities. Some Polish political circles close to Pilsudski were fervent supporters of Georgia’s independence, which they envisioned as part of a future Intermarium space, a buffer to the Soviet Union. Read more: Interwar Poland and the Intermarium concept.

From 1939–1940, Spiridon headed the Georgian National Committee in Paris, which, together with the French General Staff, prepared an expeditionary force to restore Georgia’s independence. Yet, once France was defeated and occupied, Spiridon switched sides and joined Nazi Germany. He had kept links with some influential German figures, such as General Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein (1870–1948), who assisted the Ottoman army during the First World War and was stationed in Georgia in 1918 to prevent the Red Army offensive.⁵⁸ Spiridon was put in charge of training cadres for various military and punitive operations and also lectured about the struggle of the Mensheviks against the Bolsheviks.

Spiridon also contacted the Zeppelin operation and then served in the Bergmann Special Purpose Battalion. In 1942, when the Germans occupied the North Caucasus, he was considered the head of the future government of Georgia. At Stavropol, he expected the Wehrmacht to invade Georgia, but after the retreat of German units, he returned to Paris. Read more: Georgian collaboration with Nazis.

Two other Chavchavadze followed similar paths. We know little of David ‘Dodik’ Chavchavadze (1900–1953), but we do know that, like Spiridon, he was a part of the Bergmann Special Purpose Battalion. In 1940 in Paris, he married Mariam (Maro) Chkonia (Ordzhonikidze?) (1896–1969),⁵⁹ who worked in Coco Chanel’s hat salon—it is well known that Coco Chanel collaborated with the Nazis,⁶⁰ so the Coco Chanel-Chavchavazde connection is not surprising. Maro introduced her brother, Archil, to a friend of Chanel’s, Helena Rubinstein, who created the cosmetics brand, and they later married. There is very little information on Maro, but we know she became a noble by the order the Grand Duke Kirill in 1938.¹

Last but not least, Yurii Tregubov (1913–2000)—the grandson of Salome Chavchavadze—followed a similar path to Georgii.² Yuri was an important figure in the NTS section in Berlin, entering the organization in 1934. He received German citizenship in 1944 and, to avoid being drafted into the Wehrmacht, he joined Vlasov’s army. He served as the Chief of the Office of the ROA General Trukhin and was captured during the Prague Offensive, in which Georgii also participated.³
Mikhail Nikolaevich Chavchavadze
Maria Lvovna Kazem-Bek (1910-1989)
with a painting of her brother on the background
Georgii Nikolaevich
Chapter Content
The Chavchavadzes
Explore the networks, citations, and documents using the buttons on the right
Our story continues with Kazem-Bek's close friend Mikhail Chavchavazdze. The Chavchavadze family, one of the most famous aristocratic lineages from Georgia, played a role in the little Caucasian kingdom's unification to tsarist Russia in early 19th century: Prince Garsevan Chavchavadze (1757-1811), the Georgian ambassador to Catherine the Great, was involved in the negotiations that led to the 1783 Treaty of Georgievsk with Russia. Yet he was shocked by the 1801 annexation and send a formal letter of complaint to St Petersburg.The lineage is divided into two main branches, Kvareli and Tsinandale. Although modern Georgian genealogists do not confirm direct kinship between the two branches, they do relate, as can be seen from the use of a unified family coats of arms.³
Adam Pavlovich Bennigsen (1882-1946)
with his son Aleksander and wife Feofania Vladimirovna Khvolson
Friedrich-Werner von der
Spiridon Chavchavadze
Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein
Yurii Tregubov (1913-2000)
Tilda Publishing
Vineta Operation
Appendix 1
NKVD document on Oleg Klimov
Appendix 2
Poland’s support for Georgian independence and anti-Soviet activities
Interwar Poland and the Intermarium Idea
Appendix 3
Appendix 4
Tilda Publishing
Georgian Collaborationism
Appendix 4
Tilda Publishing
Excerpts of Ruchenko memoirs
Appendix 5
Tilda Publishing
A report from the Kiev NKVD surveillance on Herman Strekker
Appendix 6
[36] Grebel’skiy, Petr, and Stanislav Dumin. Dvoryanskiye rody Rossiyskoy imperii. Vol. 4. 10 vols. Moskva: Likominvest, 1998. 234.
[37] Muzey istorii GULAGa. Zurab Chavchavadze. Moy GULAG. Polnaya versiya, 2020.
[38] Babich, Irina. ‘Kavkazskaya emigratsiya vo Frantsii: kul’tura, politika, sud’ba (1920-1980-ye gody)’. Adygeyskiy respublikanskiy institut gumanitarnykh issledovaniy im. T.M. Kerasheva, 6 December 2017.
[39] Krivosheina, Nina. Chetyre treti nashey zhizni: Vospominaniya. Moskva: Russkiy put’, 2017.
[40] Muzey istorii GULAGa. Nekrasova-Chavchavadze O.A.: «Dlya menya eto uzhe byla vnutrenne sploshnaya molitva», 2019.
[41] Nosik, Boris. Sent-Zhenev’yev-de-Bua. Russkiy pogost v predmest’ye Parizha. Algoritm, 2014.
[42] Massip, Istina - doch’ vremeni: Aleksandr Kazem-Bek i russkaya emigratsiya na Zapade. 187.
[43] Ugrimov, Aleksander. Iz Moskvy v Moskvu cherez Parizh i Vorkutu. Moskva: RA, 2004.
[44] Massip, Istina - doch’ vremeni: Aleksandr Kazem-Bek i russkaya emigratsiya na Zapade. 410.
[45] Ugrimov, Iz Moskvy v Moskvu cherez Parizh i Vorkutu.
[46] Our interview with Vladimir Gnezdilov.
[47] Pervaya Stolitsa. Interv’yu s Georgiyem Nikolayevichem Ben-Chavchavadze. Khar’kov, 1997.
[48] Okorokov, Aleksandr. Materialy po Istorii Russkogo Osvoboditel’nogo Dvizheniya. Sb. Statei, Dokumentov i Vospominanij. Dzhangar, 1998
[49] Okorokov, Materialy po Istorii Russkogo Osvoboditel’nogo Dvizheniya.
[50] Thörner, Klaus. ‘German Caucasus Imperialism’. Wider den Zeitgeist: Analysen zu Kolonialismus, Kapitalismus und Imperialismus, 1996, 119–165.
[51] Okorokov, Materialy po Istorii Russkogo Osvoboditel’nogo Dvizheniya.
[52] Okorokov, Materialy po Istorii Russkogo Osvoboditel’nogo Dvizheniya..
[53] Cherniaev, Vladimir. ‘Belaya Emigraciya i Plan «Novoi Rossii» v Manifeste KONR’. Nansenovskie Chteniya, 2018, 238–280.
[54] "The reconnaissance battalion of Major Kostenko participated in assisting the rebels, who earlier, in 1944, in the most tragic way (for their victims, of course) took part on the side of the Germans in the suppression of another uprising - the Warsaw one (Here Zhachek admits an inaccuracy. Only a third or a little more a third of the soldiers and officers of the reconnaissance division of the 1st division, commanded by the former intelligence chief of the RONA Boris Kostenko, transferred to the KONR Armed Forces from the RONA, the rest of his fighters served in the 567th reconnaissance squadron of the Wehrmacht under the command of captain Chavchavadze (who became the commander of 3 -th reconnaissance squadron, part of the reconnaissance division of the 1st division and consisting of former soldiers of the 567th reconnaissance squadron) and the anti-partisan detachment of the white emigrant captain Feofanov (who became the communications officer of the reconnaissance division), and both formations fought only on the Eastern Front and only against the communists, without getting dirty in military operations and punitive actions against the Western allies and national liberation movements of other peoples, in contrast to the Kaminians - approx. Roman Volnodumov).
[55] The National WWII Museum. ‘Calling All Czechs! The Prague Uprising of 1945’. The National WWII Museum, 5 May 2020.
[56] ‘Chavchavadze Spiridon Mikhailovich’. Spisok knyazheskikh i dvoryanskikh rodov Gruzii a tak zhe familii potomstvennykh pochetnykh grazhdan g. Tiflis i Gruzii, 12 June 2010.
[57] Babich, Kavkazskaya emigratsiya vo Frantsii: kul’tura, politika, sud’ba (1920-1980-ye gody).
[58] Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein (1870-1948), German commander, assisted the Ottoman army in WWI. Stationed in Georgia in 1918 and prevented the offense of the Red Army through Abkhazia. Spiridon encountered him in that campaign. Von Kress retried form the army in 1929, but remained high influence.
[59] Khabua, Dea. ‘tavadi ch’avch’avadzeebi’. i. chikovani: ist’. nark’vevi, 2002, 130.
[60] Muir, Kate. ‘Chanel and the Nazis: What Coco Avant Chanel and Other Films Don’t Tell You’. The Times. 8 March 2011.
[61] Obolenskiy, Igor’. Russkiy sled Koko Shanel’. Moskva: Redaktsiya Yeleny Shubinoy, 2015.
[62] Chavchavadze, David. Crowns and Trenchcoats: A Russian Prince in the CIA. Atlantic International Publications, 1990.
[63] Tregubov Yuri Andreevich (1913-2000), writer // Memories of the GULAG and Their Authors // Sakharov Center ( The Sakharov Center is a foreign agent on the territory of the Russian Federation.

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