Joseph Stalin's rule over the Soviet Union was characterised by the brutal and repressive measures he established against perceived enemies of the Russian Communist Party. In his determination for absolute power over every facet of the Soviet State, he gave the Secret Police wide reaching authority to conduct clandestine operations in both Russian and abroad, to identify and eliminate anyone who posed a threat to his Stalinist interpretation of the Bolshevik ideology. Known as "chernaya rabota" or Black Work, the NKVD became involved in covert assassinations of political enemies, the state sanctioned torture of suspected terrorists and spies and the subsequent executions of hundreds of thousands of people condemned as traitors to the motherland during the Great Purge. Men like Vasily Blokhin and Pavel Sudoplatov helped ensure Stalin kept his firm control over the Russian people.
The NKVD were Stalin's political secret police, established under the early Bolshevik Party as the Cheka, which enacted a reign of terror against former White Czarist officers as well as counter-revolutionaries, during a purge which became known as the Red Terror. On 17 August 1918, the Chief of the Petrograd Secret Police, Moisei Uritsky was assassinated by Leonid Kannegisser, a young military cadet of the Imperial Russian Army and just two weeks later, Socialist Revolitionary Fanya Kaplan made an attempt on the life of Lenin.
With this Stalin suggested on 01 September 1918, that the Cheka begin a systematic repression of political enemies of the Bolshevik Party, particularly those who sided with the Czarist White Movement of Kolchak, Denikin and others. The Cheka was overseen by Felix Dzerzinsky, a political ally of Lenin who had become a Bolshevik as late as 1917. Nicknamed "Iron Felix", Dzerzinsky would organize the Cheka to combat internal enemies to the newly established Communist Government during the Civil War period of 1918-1922. Thousands of people were executed in mass executions and shot without trial on the basis of exterminating enemies of the revolution.
Under the Bolsheviks, the Cheka established a poison laboratory in 1921 which came to be known as "Special Office" and was overseen by professor of medicine Ignatii Kazakov. This department conducted research into the use poisons and their application for use in covert operations. With the defeat of the White Army, thousands of Russian émigrés left the eastern territories and fled westwards to establish a anti-Communist groups with the intention of continuing the fight against Bolshevik repression. Former Czarist officers in exile set-up the Russian All-Military Union in Paris with the intention of overthrowing the Soviet leadership and restoring the Monarchy. When the White Army was defeated in 1923, the Cheka was reorganised under Dzerzinsky and re-named the State Political Directorate, known as the GPU. The GPU was subordinate to the NKVD and portrayed with more restraint than their Cheka predecessors.
NKVD investigators were required to process any suspected counter-revolutionaries before the courts, however summary executions continued under Dzerzinsky's directorship. A further re-organisation on 15 November 1923 saw the GPU re-named as the Joint State Political Directorate or OGPU, which was now separate from NKVD control. Under the GPU, Dzerzinsky had established the foreign department within the OGPU was headed by Mikhail Trilisser who set-up a fake anti-Bolshevik resistance organisation in 1921 which became known as the "Monarchist Union of Central Russia", and was intended to identify Monarchist and anti-Bolshevik agents and neutralise them. This counter-intelligence undertaking was referred to as "Operation Trust", and had several successes against foreign and Russian agents, such as Boris Savinkov and Sidney Reilly who were attempting to incite anti-Communist sentiments and planned anti-Bolshevik plots.
"The Capture of Boris Savinkov" (1924)
Boris Savinkov was a Russian writer and Revolutionary, and was a prominent leader of the Combat Organisation which was the terrorist branch of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. He was involved in the assassinations of several high ranking Imperial officials during the reign of the Tsar, and organised counter-revolutionary armed uprisings against the Bolsheviks during the Civil War. After these attempts were crushed by the Communists, he fled to Paris and became involved in various Russian émigrés groups and represented Admiral Kolchak. After further attempts to raise military units in Poland from former Red Army POW's, Savinkov was forced to flee Poland and he was identified under Operation Trust as a significant threat to Soviet interests. He became involved with Sidney Reilly, a renegade British agent who was operating in Russia in an attempt to make contact with Pro-Monarchist and anti-Bolshevik elements.
However these counter-revolutionaries were actually Trust agents working on behalf of Trilisser in an attempt to ensnare reactionary agents. Savinkov was lured to Russia on the pretext of meeting with like-minded individuals and arrested by under-cover officers of the OGPU. He was tried before the USSR Supreme Court and sentenced to death for his counter-revolutionary plots, however his sentence was later commuted to 10 years imprisonment. During his time in prison, Savinkov recognised the Bolshevik Government and wrote satirical stories about white émigrés which were later published in Moscow. The NKVD reported he committed suicide by jumping from a window at the Lubyanka Prison on 07 May 1925. However later publications would reveal Lenin had Dzerzinsky order his men to throw Savinkov from the window.
"The Arrest and Execution of Sidney Reilly" (November 1925)
Savinkov's associate, the British secret agent Sidney Reilly had also become involved in the attempted establishment of counter-revolutionary groups inside Russia. Reilly had been employed by Scotland Yard's Special Branch and was later utilised by the Foreign Section of the British Secret Service Bureau, later known as MI6/SIS. He was known as the "Ace of Spies" throughout his long career of espionage and prior to World War I, he was involved in stealing plans for the Port Arthur defence which he gave to the Japanese, the D'Arcy Affair, which saw Reilly approach mining engineer William Knox D'Arcy in disguise aboard the Rothchild's yacht to offer him a more lucrative deal on behalf of the British Government and working incognito inside Imperial Germany to steal weapons plans from the Krupp armaments factory in Essen. These exploits had earned Reilly even more dangerous missions inside Germany during the war, and he was most often sent being enemy lines, disguised as a German officer. Reilly was heavily involved in the Ambassador's Plot, which was a carefully planned attempt to destabalise the Soviet Government by assassinating key officials, including the head of the Petrograd Cheka, Moisei Uritsky.
Reilly, posing as a member of the Petrograd Cheka, met with Savinkov who recruited Leonid Kannegisser to carry out the assassination. Their plan was to cause disruption within the Government, through a military coup which would see Lenin and Trotsky arrested by soldiers bribed with SIS funds and then handed to the Allies. However the planned meeting between Lenin and Trotsky was postponed when Fanya Kaplan shot and wounded Lenin in her failed assassination attempt. After this incident, the Cheka began the "Red Terror" reprisals which saw thousands arrested and executed by NKVD executioners. Foreign nationals like Reilly were now under threat of arrest and forced to flee Russia whilst others involved in the planned coup were rounded up and sent the Lubyanka.
Reilly was tried in absentia by the Supreme Revolutionary Tribunal in November 1918 and once he was debriefed by British Intelligence, he was once again sent into Russia during the Civil War where he became involved in overseeing the activities of the White Movement on behalf of MI6. In 1924 he became involved in the Zinoviev Letter which suggested a trade deal between Soviet Russia and Labour Party which would lead to the overthrow of the British Government. This possibly forged document would have far reaching consequences for British politics and Reilly was believed to have been the courier, bringing the letter into the UK. By 1925 he was determined to return to Russia and resume contact with counter-revolutionaries and White Russians pro-Monarchists.
He was then directed towards contact with the anti-Bolshevik organisation known as the Trust. Just as his associate Savinkov had been lured to Russia by the OGPU, so too was Reilly. Undercover agents working under Trilisser, organised a meeting with Reilly and he was arrested at the border by Toivo Vähä, a former Finnish Red Guard fighter who served the OGPU. He was captured and taken to the Lubyanka where he was interrogated extensively about his activities, whilst Reilly himself studied his captors interrogation techniques. After several mock executions, he was taken to a forest near Moscow on 05 November 1925 and shot by OGPU officer Grigory Feduleev, while another officer George Syroezhkin, fired a final shot into Reilly's chest.
Around 1927, Stalin created the Kommandatura Branch of the Administrative Executive Department of the NKVD. This Kommandatura was formed to perform duties which Stalin termed, "chernaya rabota" or Black Work. The company sized unit was headquartered in the Lubyanka and Vasily Blokhin was appointed as commander. These men would carry out the various clandestine assassinations, torture and executions which Stalin needed to ensure his grip on the reigns of power.
"The Arrest and Execution of Yakov Blumkin" (November 1929)
As head of the foreign department within the GPU and later OGPU, Mikhail Trilisser oversaw a complex network of spies and saboteurs who conducted clandestine activities abroad. One of these agents was Yakov Blumkin, a former left-Socialist Revolutionary who had assassinated Wilhelm Mirbach, the German ambassador to Russia on behalf of the LSR's Executive Committee. He escaped the subsequent repression of the LSR and travelled to Petrograd and then the Ukraine in 1919 where he eventually surrendered to the Bolsheviks. Rather than executing him, Dzerzinsky pardoned Blumkin, offered him the chance to work on behalf of the Cheka and entrusted him with the task of assassinating Admiral Kolchak.
Blumkin would then survive numerous assassination attempts against his own life by his former LSR comrades. Blumkin was then sent to Iran where he became involved in attempting to establish Iranian Communist Party to power by removing the head of the Persian Socialist Soviet Republic, Koochak Khan. Returning to Moscow by 1921, he became acquainted with Leon Trotsky, working as his secretary and helping him with his Military Writings. He was then assigned to the Arab Peninsula by the OGPU where served in various positions along with his companion, the poet Sergei Esenin.
Felix Dzerzinsky died in 1926 and his position as head of the OGPU Secret Police was taken over by Vyacheslav Menzhinsky who shut down the Trust Operation in 1927 after it's true purpose was discovered by White General Alexander Kutepov, who organised several terrorist operations within Russian in retaliation. One of the primary organiser's of the Trust, Artur Artuzov was dismissed from his position in November 1927 for openly clashing with Yagoda, and Menzhinsky appointed Mikhail Trilisser as Vice-Chairman of the OGPU, whilst Genrikh Yagoda held nominal power. Yagoda steadily was increasing his own power and by 1926 was supervising the secret poison Laboratory "Special Office" of the NKVD. By 1929 Blumkin was active in Turkey where he sold early Herbew books he had collected from all over Russia to help finance an espionage network in the Middle East.
During his time there he met once more with Leon Trotsky who had been expelled from the Soviet Union by Stalin, who requested he transmit a secret message to Karl Radek. An informer within Trotsky's own entourage relayed information on this meeting to the OGPU and Stalin was soon informed, who saw this as an attempt to communicate with oppositionists within Russia. After Blumkin's meeting with Radek in Moscow, Yagoda ordered Trilisser to assign an attractive female OGPU agent of the foreign department to the case. Elizabeth Zarubina, going by the name Lisa Gorskaya was directed by Trilisser to seduce Blumkin in order to get close to him and soon the two were having an affair.
In October 1929, OGPU agents were sent to arrest him at his apartment, and when they arrived Blumkin was getting into a car with Gorskaya. The agents set off in pursuit and shots were fired by both sides, before Blumkin realised he had been set-up. He turned to Gorskaya telling her, Lisa, you have betrayed me!". After his arrest he was brought before an OGPU tribunal which consisted of Menzhinsky, Yagoda and Trilisser. Yagoda requested the death penalty, Trilisser was against it and Menzhinsky was undecided.
The matter was referred to Stalin who agreed with Yagoda, and decided Blumkin should face the death penalty. Soon after, Trilisser was dismissed from his position within the foreign department by his boss Genrikh Yagoda for openly complaining about him at a party meeting. After defending Yagoda, Artuzov was assigned to replace him and ordered the execution of Blumkin. He was given a two-week reprieve to write his memoirs and on 03 November 1929 was executed before a firing squad, his last words being "Long live Trotsky!".
The Kidnapping of Alexander Kutepov (26 January 1930)
With the influx of Russian White émigrés to Europe, came the continued resistance towards the Bolsheviks after the White Army defeat at the Crimean Peninsula during the Civil War in November 1920. Many White Generals escaped to France where they set-up political and military organisations, chief amongst them was the Russian All-Military Union (ROVS). Headed by Alexander Kutepov, a former commander in the Russian Army during World War I, who would go on to be a leading member of the White Movement after the fall of the Russian Royal Family and became commander of the Kornilov Shock Regiment before being appointed in August 1918 as Governor General of the Black Sea region.
He would then be appointed to command various other units during the Civil War and evacuated the remnants of his forces to Gallipoli where he went into exile when the Bolshevik's achieved victory. After being expelled from Bulgaria, he went to Serbia in 1924 before settling in Paris with his wife. With the death of Pyotr Wrangel in 1928, Kutepov became commander of the ROVS and once it became clear the Western powers would not intervene in Russia, he re-organised the ROVS and began to plan terrorist activities inside Russia, where agents would conduct sabotage and incite tensions against the Soviet authorities. Kutepov also set-up a counter-intelligence branch of the ROVS, which became known as the Inner Line.
The OGPU under Menzhinsky decided to eliminate Kutepov, and the operation was entrusted to Yakov Serebryansky, who oversaw a specialist unit known as the "Yasha Group" which reported directly to Menzhinsky himself. The OGPU prepared a plan in 1929 which set in motion the following year to capture Kutepov in Paris. Serebryansky left for Paris to oversee the operation in person along with his deputy Puzitsky and several other members of the Yasha Group. Experts of the "Special Office" poison laboratory provided the agents with a sedative to capture the General, and the plan was to facilitate his transport to a waiting Soviet Ship which was stationed in the port of Marseille and then back to Russia. On 26 January 1930, Yasha Group agents disguised wearing French police uniforms located Kutepov and stopped him in the street to conducted an arrest and get him to their vehicle.
However, Kutepov resisted the obvious kidnapping and was injected morphine by one of the agents. During the struggle he died from a heart attack. His body was buried near the outskirts of Paris and the OGPU agents returned to Russia. His position as commander of the Russian All-Military Union (ROVS) was taken by General Yevgeny Miller who did not enjoy the same level of influence as Kutepov. For his part in the mission, Serebryansky was awarded the Order of the Red Banner and Yagoda gained even more power within the OGPU. His boss Menzhinsky had been suffering from various health problems from the mid-1920's and began to take less and less of an active role in the management of the Secret Police, leaving Yagoda as first deputy to liaise directly with Stalin.
The Assassination of Noe Ramishvili (07 December 1930)
The Mensheviks were the opposing faction within the Russian Socialist movement, in direct opposition to the Bolsheviks. This factionalism split came about over differences concerning party membership and the minority faction disputed Lenin's majority group. One such Menshevik was Noe Ramishvili, a Georgian politician who served as the president of the first government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia on 26 May 1918 Georgia became an independent state. When the Soviet Red Army occupied the Republic in February/March 1921, Ramishvili was exiled because of his role in preventing large-scale Bolshevik revolts organised by Moscow. He emigrated to France where he became involved in anti-Bolshevik organisations and sponsored the Georgian Uprising in 1924.
This revolt saw the Georgian forces withdraw into mountainous regions where they organised themselves into partisan units and conducted guerrilla warfare against the invading Red Army. The Georgian Cheka under Lavrenty Beria began mass arrests of thousands of opponents, including the majority of the Georgian leadership which severely disrupted the uprising, but did not successful stop the insurgents from initiating the conflict in August 1924. Thousands of civilians were murdered by Red Army and Cheka detachments under Beria's control and by October 1924 the uprising had been all but defeated.
Following the end of resistance in Georgia, Ramishvili became involved as a promiment leader in the Prometheism movement, which was conceived by the Polish statesman Josef Pilsudski. The movement was dedicated to fighting for the liberation of people within the states of the former Russian Empire from the domination of the Bolsheviks. Stalin decided to remove Ramishvili as a political threat and instructed the OGPU under Yagoda's direction to organize the operation, which was overseen by the foreign department under director Artuzov. Ramishvili was still residing in France when on 07 December 1930 he was approached by an agent of the OGPU, Parmen Chanukvadze and shot to death.
On 10 May 1934, the head of the OGPU Vyacheslav Menzhinsky died. He had been physically unwell for some time throughout the late 1920's to early 1930's and often conducted his work whilst lying on a couch in his office at the Lubyanka. In his place Stalin appointed his first deputy Genrikh Yagoda on 10 July 1934. Yagoda was the nominal head of the OGPU except on paper and had been Stalin's main point of contact on secret police matters. Upon his appointment, the OGPU was reincorporated into the NKVD becoming the Main Directorate of the State Security (GUGB).
It now became one of the most important and powerful operational structures within the security apparatus. Overseen by Yagoda, the GUGB was placed under the command of Yakov Agronov who became his deputy. Although he was an effective head of the OGPU and upon his appointment as head of the NKVD and now one of the most powerful men in the Russian State, Yagoda did not enjoy the full confidence of Stalin, who was mistrustful of him.
Stalin was also mistrustful of many of the Bolshevik Old Guard, those who had been with the Party from the beginning and were placed into leadership position's by Stalin's predecessor Lenin. Because of his need to consolidate his power against what he saw as dissident elements of the Russian Communist Party and the largely catastrophic economic mistakes from 1928 to 1933, which led to a Great Depression amongst the Soviet population, Stalin required a specific reason to begin a purge of the party ranks and clear away anyone he considered an enemy or obstacle on his road to absolute power.
The Assassination of Sergey Kirov (01 December 1934)
Sergei Kirov, the popular head of the Lenningrad Community Party organisation was a close and personal friend of Stalin who had been an Old Bolshevik during the Russian Revolutions. He had been a loyal supporter of Stalin for many years, siding with him against his adversaries Nikolai Bukharin and Alexei Rykov. It would be because of his popularity and loyalty to his boss that he would fall victim to his own success as Stalin plotted to remove him as a pretext for beginning his party purge. Steps were taken to ensure Kirov would be vulnerable for a potential assassination and Stalin had Yagoda replace the head of the Leningrad NKVD, Filipp Medved. Medved was a close friend of Kirov and Stalin attempted to replace him with Grigory Yeremenyevich, one of his close associates, however Kirov countermanded the order.
Yagoda was then ordered by Stalin to plan the murder of Kirov. For this he arranged for Medved's deputy Vania Zaporozhets to recruit a suitable assassin to carry out the operation, wishing no links to the NKVD by using their own agents. Zaporozhets arranged for a young expelled party member by the name of Leonid Nikolayev, who had previously been arrested for petty offences, to undertake the job, giving him money and a weapon. On 15 October 1934, Nikolayev entered the Smolny Institute where Kirov worked and attempted to pass the main security desk, but was stopped by a vigilant guard who examined his briefcase and found his revolver. He was arrested, but released several hours later and allowed to go free with his weapon.
Yagoda now withdrew all but four of Kirov's police bodyguards who accompanied him everywhere, and on 01 December 1934, Nikolayev entered the now un-manned entrance to Kirov's offices and went inside the Smolny Institute unopposed making his way to the third floor. Although there were upwards of nine NKVD bodyguards in the building, Kirov was now guarded by one lone NKVD officer, Commissar Borisov. Nikolayev encountered Kirov in the hallway and opened fire as he passed him, shooting him in the back of the neck.
Those who participated directly and in-directly with the assassination were secretly removed as potential witnesses to Stalin's involvement. The Leningrad NKVD chief, Filipp Medved was arrested following Kirov's assassination and sentenced to three months in prison. Others were not as fortunate. Nikolayev was tried by the Supreme Court of the USSR, sentenced to death and shot on 29 December 1934. Medved's deputy Vania Zaporozhets was also shot for his role in recruiting Nikolayev. Commissar Borisov was murdered after being thrown for the back of a moving truck by NKVD guards and his wife was committed to an insane asylum.
Many of the Leningrad NKVD officers who provided Kirov's security were officially convicted of negligence and and sentenced to prison terms, however none would be imprisoned, instead they were relocated to positions in the GULAG system of labor camps. Most of these NKVD officers would later be shot during Stalin's subsequent purge. Although Kirov was removed as a potential rival and Stalin now had the catalyst to begin his purges, he was displeased with Yagoda's handling of the Kirov affair. One Soviet official would comment that, "the Boss forgets nothing...". Moving to curb Yagoda's power, he replaced Artur Atruzov as head of the foreign department with Abram Slutsky.
Stalin now moved against the leaders of the Opposition Party and Bolshevik Old Guard members Grigori Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, who had supported Kirov and Trotsky against Stalin. After the death of Kirov, both Zinoviev and Kamenev were expelled from the party and arrested in December 1934 along with thousands of others on the pretext of their involvement with the assassination. Both were tried in secret and forced to admit to complicity in the plot and sentenced to terms on imprisonment. However Stalin was not satisfied, and Yagoda was now slowly losing influence because of his inability to force adequate confessions from Zinoviev and Kamenev and reveal their links to the former Czarist secret police, the Okhrana.
What little success from the interrogations came from Nikolai Yezhov, who had been personally appointed to the task by Stalin. Yagoda saw this as a threat to his position as Yezhov was a party functionary and had no previous police experience. Yezhov was able to fabricate evidence which established direct links between those accused and Trotsky, including correspondence from Trotsky amongst the possessions of the accused. Yagoda attempted to convince Stalin there was no evidence of collaboration between Trotsky and Zinoviev, but was firmly rebuked by Stalin. Zinoviev and Kamenev eventually agreed to cooperate with Stalin if their lives were spared, a promise which Stalin agreed to honour.
After months of careful planning, the first Moscow Show Trial began on 19 August 1936 when sixteen former Old Bolsheviks, party members and secret police officials were tried during what was known as the Case of the Totskyite-Zinoviev Terrorist Centre. They were charged with conspiring with Western Powers to assassinate Stalin and other Soviet leaders and all the defendants were sentenced to death. Stalin had been successful at removing potential rivals to his position, however the foreign press and public reactions around the world had been largely negative towards the show trial. Zinoviev and Kamenev were shot on 25 August 1936 by Vasily Blokhin of the Kommandatura Branch on the orders of Stalin.
On 26 September 1936 Yagoda was replaced as NKVD chief with Nikolai Yezhov and the Great Purge was accelerated to remove hundreds of thousands of political, social and military threats to Stalin's leadership in what became know as the Yezhovschina. Ambitious officials were now moving to assume the vacant positions left by those executed and others who were looking to achieve Stalins' favour. One of these was a Mingrelian from Georgia by the name of Lavrenty Beria who served as a deputy head of the Georgian OGPU in 1922 and became involved in the supression of the Georgian Uprising which was instigated by the exiled Georgian politician Noe Ramishvili.
The Poisoning of Nestor Lakoba (28 December 1936)
Beria had been supported in his rise to prominence by the popular Abkhazia politician Nestor Lakoba. Abkhazia was allowed to function as an autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic by Lenin under Lakoba's leadership, and he also enjoyed a good relationship with Stalin. During his early revolutionary years, Stalin went by the nom de guerre of Koba, and would often visit his dacha in Abkhazia and jokingly comment, "I am Koba and you are Lokoba". When Stalin made his bid for power after Lenin's death, Lokoba played an instrumental role when he ensured Trotsky was kept isolated at Sukhumi which meant he did not successfully challenge Stalin's political manoeuvres.
As a result Loboka was allowed his own autonomy when it came to governing Abkhazia, overseeing the collectivisation which had been implemented across the Soviet Union. He also supported the rise of Lavrenty Beria, who became the First Secretary of Georgia in November 1931 with Lokoba's support. As head of the Georgian Cheka, Beria was in a position to ensure Lakoba's own security by having a strong working relationship he could influence. However Beria soon began to undermine Lakoba in order to get closer to Stalin.
Throughout Abkhazia there was long standing animosity between Mingrelians and Abkhazians and may have contributed to Beria's hostility towards Lokoba. Both men competed for Stalin's favour, and in 1934 Lakoba published a chronicle of Stalin's early life as a revolutionary which Stalin enjoyed. Beria then chose to write an even more definitive, albeit somewhat falsified history of Stalin's time as a revolutionary which gain him recognition throughout Russia. In early 1935 Stalin was looking to replaced Yagoda as head of the NKVD and offered Lakoba the position, which he declined. This refusal was noted by Stalin who again offered Lakoba the position in August 1936 which he refused once more, wishing to stay in Abkhazia. Stalin then took measures to undermine Lakoba and upon a visit to Moscow, he complained bitterly about Beria.
Because of his popularity, Beria was unable to remove Lakoba from his position. With Stalin's blessing, Beria invited Lakoba to Party headquarters in Tbilisi, Georgia on 26 December 1936 and invited him to din with him the following day. Beria had consulted the experts at the "Special Office" and obtained a poison which he used on Lakoba's food. Later that evening they attended the opera and Lakoba began to show signs of the poison, returning to his hotel room where he died on 28 December 1936. Official he was reported to have died from a heart attack, but a medical examination in Moscow determined his body was suffering the effects of poison. His body was returned to Sukhumi without the internal organs, which would have positively identified the cause. With Stalin's patronage, Beria had removed a political obstacle and Lakoba was accused after his death of having colluded with Trotsky who was in exile.
The Fall of Genrikh Yagoda (March 1937)
Yagoda had long been losing influence with Stalin because of his handling of the initial stages of the Great Purge, and was demoted on 26 September 1936 to People's Commissar for Post and Telegraph. This was one of Stalin's key tactics when removing formerly trusted henchmen into positions prior to liquidation. With Yezhov now in full control of the NKVD, Yagoda's arrest was ordered in March 1937. After his imprisonment, Yezhov's agents searched his Moscow Apartment and found 3,904 pornographic photos, 11 pornographic films, 165 pornograpically carved pipes, a dildo and the bullets that killed Zinoviev and Kamenev. Yezhov personally supervised Yagoda's torture and under questioning, he implicated himself in the death of his predecessor Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, whom he confessed to poisoning over a period of time. To further the case against Yagoda, Yezhov had his agents sprinkle mercury on the curtains in his office, which was then shown as an attempt by Yagoda to poison his successor.
Yezhov then moved against Yagoda's key lieutenants, removing his first deputy Yakov Agronov, who was demoted in April 1937 to head of the NKVD in Saratov, whilst the head of the foreign department, Artur Artuzov was arrested on 13 May 1937 and executed not long after on 21 May. Yagoda's fall would be more public and he was to be tried with others the following year during one of the show trials. Yezhov then set about placing his own loyalists to positions within the NKVD. Mikhail Frinovsky was appointed as the deputy head of the NKVD, and Leonid Zakovsky replaced Agronov, who was arrested on 20 July 1937, as first deputy under Yezhov. The foreign department headed by Abram Slutsky continued to conduct Stalin's operations of eliminating external threats. Many foreign department agents were being recalled to Moscow through-out 1936 and 1937 as part of the Great Purge under Yezhov. Anyone considered to have been working with the enemy was deemed a traitor and those who voluntarily returned were interrogated and executed.
The Assassination of Ignace Reiss (04 September 1937)
Ignace Reiss worked as a "Soviet Illegal", and served as an intelligence agent in countries where he was not a national, just as Yakov Blumkin had done under the OGPU. Reiss had become a member of the OGPU in 1921 under the alias "Ludwig" and was arrested for espionage in Lwow and sentenced to a prison term. He escaped on a train in Cracow and never again returned to Poland. He then worked in Europe from 1921 to 1929 where he continued spying and also trained others. He returned to Moscow briefly in 1927 and then from 1929 to 1932 in the Polish section of the Comintern. His associates at that time were Walter Krivitsky, Richard Sorge, who would later work undercover in Nazi Germany and Valentin Markin who was his point of contact with foreign department director Slutsky. From 1932 to 1937 he was stationed in Paris along with his wife, when Soviet Intelligence agents were being recalled to Moscow. Reiss was summoned to Russia but had his wife go in his place, whilst Krivitsky managed to avoid his recall by being re-assigned on foreign intelligence work.
Distraught at the deaths of his comrades in Yezhov's Purges, Riess composed a letter on 17 July 1937 which he addressed to Stalin in which he condemned the excesses of the Stalinist Purges and the excesses of the NKVD. He declared his intention of joining Leon Trotsky's Fourth International and returned his Order of the Red Banner medal. Although he criticised Stalin and Yezhov, Reiss promised not to reveal any states secrets of the espionage work. He then fled to Switerland with his wife and child. Stalin then ordered to foreign department to arrange for Reiss to be located and assassinated. Slutsky sent Vladimir Pravdin, an NKVD assassin code-named LETCHIK to Switzerland with instructions to eliminate Reiss.
Pravdin arranged for an intermediary known as Gertrude Schildbach to contact Reiss and set-up a meeting. Schildbach refused to give Riess a box of chocolates poisoned with strychnine, however she did agree to meet with him. On 04 September 1937, Reiss met with Schildbach in Lausanne and whilst his wife and son boarded a train for Territet, he intended to board a train with Schildbach to Reims to meet with an associate. Intending to meet his family later, Reiss using the alias "Eberhardt", was lured to the side of the road at Lausanne where Pravdin was waiting armed with a Soviet PPD-34 sub-machine gun. When he realised what was happening, Reiss grabbed Schildbach before Pravdin shot him fifteen times. His body was later found by the side of the road by French Police. Those involved disappeared soon after the murder. Pravdin would only resurface after the war, whilst Schildbach was never heard from again, presumably murdered to silence her.
The Kidnapping of Yevgeny Miller (22 September 1937)
Despite the termination of Operation Trust in 1927 by Vyacheslav Menzhinsky, Stalin was still keen on eliminating officials of the White Movement in Paris. After the death of General Alexander Kutepov during his attempted abduction on 26 January 1930 by agents of the OPGU, General Yevgeny Miller was appointed to replace him. Miller was a former Czarist Army officer who fled to Archangelsk after the October Revolution of 1917 and declared himself Governor-General of Northern Russia.
He was promoted to head the White Army by Admiral Kolchak in May 1919 and fought the Red Army alongside forces of the Triple Entente. After a series of military setbacks, the British Army withdrew and the White Army fought alone, and were eventually defeated. He fled to France where he continued his anti-Communist activities, becoming head of the Russian All-Military Union (ROVS) after Kutepov's death. The effectiveness of the ROVS was hampered by the fact that the NKVD had infiltrated the groups counter-intelligence unit known as the Inner Line.
An ROVS officer and Inner Line member, Nikolai Skoblin had been recruited by Sergei Spiegelglas to work as a double agent for the OGPU against the White Movement. Skoblin had played a role in the disinformation operation which supplied alleged proof that Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky was in collusion with Nazi Germany. He provided these documents to the head of the SD, Reinhard Heydrich who seeing an opportunity to destabilise the Red Army, forwarded them to Stalin through undercover channels. However Stalin was the originator of the documents, which the NKVD under Yezhov had suppled to Skoblin.
The subsequent trial of leading members of the Red Army, known as the Case of Trotskyist Ant-Soviet Military Organisation, saw Tukhachevsky and eight other Generals tried and condemned as traitors as part of the Yezhovschina. Tukhachevsky was exeucted on 12 June 1937. Skoblin's recruiter, Spiegelglas was the chief undercover agent of the OGPU in 1930 and would later be appointed as deputy head of the foreign department under Slutsky. By 1937 Skoblin was working under the supervision of the foreign department under Slutsky, who ordered the kidnapping of General Miller.
Skoblin lured Miller to safe house where he was to attend a meeting with two Abwehr Agents of the German Intelligence Service. However, these agents were officers of the Soviet NKVD in disguise, and they drugged Miller and placed him inside a steamer trunk. He was then driven to the port at Le Havre and smuggled aboard a Soviet ship. In the event of his disappearance, Miller left behind a note which detailed his suspicions of Skoblin. The NKVD smuggled Miller out of France to Barcelona, where he was taken back to Moscow. Skoblin escaped to Barcelona, however his wife, Nadezhda Plevitskaya was arrested by French Police and charged with involvement. A French court sentenced to her 20 years imprisonment. In Moscow Miller was tortured by the NKVD at the Lubyanka and later executed on 11 May 1939.
The Assassination of Abram Slutsky (17 February 1938)
By the end of 1937 Nikolai Yezhov conducted a re-organisation of the GUGB within the NKVD, increasing the number of departments from nine to twelve and had by now consolidated his power within the NKVD, replacing Yagoda's underlings with his own in almost every position of importance. Except for the foreign department, which was still headed by Abram Slutsky who had been appointed during Yagoda's tenure as NKVD chief. Although Slutsky had been implicated by Yagoda and others during their interrogations of being involved in the wider NKVD conspiracy, Yezhov feared his removal would result in the defection of Soviet agents abroad out of fear for their own lives.
Instead Yezkov consulted his deputy Mikhail Frinovsky and the poison experts of the "Special Office" to initiate a plan to assassinate Slutsky. On 17 February 1938, Frinovky invited Slutsky to his office and when he entered, he was seized by NKVD first deputy Leonid Zakovsky who held him whilst another officer rushed in to administer an injection of poison.
The deputy head of the foreign department was then called into the office and observed Slutsky slumped in a chair. Frinovsky said he had died from a heart attack and a doctor was then called to confirm this claim. Officially Slutsky was reported to have died at the desk in his office. Yezhov had his body placed on display in the main hall of the NKVD headquarters, however the embalmers had failed to cover the spots on his face which indicated his poisoning. His deputy Sergei Spegielglas was appointed to assume his position.
With the last of Yagoda's henchmen removed from power, he was placed on trial along with other Old Bolsheviks and charged with numerous crimes against the USSR. Whilst in prison, Yagoda had confessed to a litany of murders, most notably that of the Russian writer Maxim Gorky and his son. The trial took place in Moscow in March 1938 and was known as the Case of the Ant-Soviet Block of Rightists and Troyskyists. Chief amongst the twenty-one defendants was Nikolai Bukharin, a longtime opponent of Stalin, Alexei Rykov a former member of the Politburo and Yagoda who were accused of complicity in the assassination of Kirov, the unsuccessful assassinations of Leinin and Stalin and plotting the deaths of the other Soviet leaders. They were also charged amongst other things of being spies on behalf of the British, French, Japanese and German intelligence agencies.
All confessed to their guilt and 17 were sentenced to death. According to one account, Bukharin was forced to watch the executions of the other defendants before being shot himself. Like all the accused, Yagoda was executed on 15 March 1938 by Stalin's executioner, Vasily Blokhin. The Great Purge continued and many thousands were arrested and sent to the gulags. NKVD first deputy Leonid Zakovsky was also implicated the Yagoda's conspiracy and was arrested on 19 August 1938. Having taken part in the interrogation of Yagoda, Zakovsky had now fallen victim to the political fallout from Yagoda's execution and he and his deputy Nikonovich were suspected of being part of a Latvian Nationalist group and tortured.
Yezhov himself was also now in danger, and was seen by Stalin as becoming too powerful akin to his predecessor Yagoda. On 06 April 1938, Yezhov was appointed to the post of People's Commissar for Water Transport. Stalin was now beginning to distance himself from the purges which had seen almost 1.3 million arrested and 680,000 shot for crimes against the state, with the remainder confined to the gulags. These purges were having an adverse affect on every facet of the Soviet system, with thousands of party officials and military officers executed during the Yezhovschina. Stalin was looking to weaken Yezhov's hold over the NKVD and wanted someone competent to replace him.
The Assassination of Yevhen Konovalets (23 May 1938)
Under Sergei Spegielglas, the foreign department continued to target former Soviet agents and political dissidents abroad including members of the Ukrainian Nationalist Movement. Yevhen Konovalets was a military commander of the Ukrainian Nationalist Republican Army. He fought for Ukrainian independence from Communist rule and after the rise of the Bolsheviks he moved to Czechoslovakia in 1920 where he set-up the Ukrainian Military Organisation (UVO) which would continue armed resistance against both Poland and Russia. He worked towards the prevention of co-operation between the Ukrainian and Polish authorities and after the Polish-Bolshevik War he became the UVO leader in Lviv.
After his organisation conducted various acts of terrorism, it was finally dismantled by the police and in December 1922, Konovalets was forced into exile. He travelled throughout Czechoslovakia, Germany and then Switzerland and attened the first congress of Ukrainian Nationalist in Vienna in 1929. Appointed leader of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalist (OUN), Konovalets became influential amongst Ukrainian émigrés in Europe and America and was soon calling for a renewed armed struggle to gain Ukrainian independence.
The Kremlin viewed Konovalets as a significant threat and feared OUN infiltration of the Soivet Union. Pavel Sudoplatov was a "Soviet Illegal", operating undercover in a number of European countries and was hand-picked by Stalin for the Konovalets operation. Sudoplatov travelled from Finland in 1935 where he received training, and then went to Rotterdam where he ingratiated himself with Konovalets using the alias Pavel Gridgdenko, becoming his friend after infiltrating the OUN. On 23 May 1938 the NKVD provided Sudoplatov with a box of chocolates rigged with an explosive device, which he was to gift to Konovalets. Konovalets was killed when the bomb exploded, and Sudoplatov escaped to Spain with the help of NKVD agents where he briefly fought against Francisco Franco's Nationalists.
The Murder of Rudolf Klement (12 July 1938)
As a member of the German Communist Party (KPD), Rudolf Klement was active in the opposition to Hitler's Nazis before their rise to power in 1933. After the establishment of the Third Reich, he fled to France where he became associated with Trotsky and worked closely with his opposition to Stalin. When Trotsky established the Fourth International in 1938, Klement was instrumental in leading the efforts in attempting to expand the alternative to Stalin's Comintern. Trotsky's son, Lev Sedov was active in leading the Paris Organisation of this new International Communism and was helped by an associate known as Etienne. However Etienne was really Mark Zborowski an NKVD agent working for Pavel Sudoplatov. It was strongly believed Zborowski had actively participated in the death of Sedov and not long after assumed control of the Paris Organisation.
Trotsky ordered an investigation into Etienne, and appointed Rudolf Klement to conduct the affair, but before he could, he disappeared. At the beginning of July his briefcase was stolen on the Metro, which contained documents on the Fourth International and several days later, on 12 July 1938, Klement was lured to an apartment by NKVD agents Ale Taubman, Alexander Korotkov, and a man known only as "the Turk", where he was murdered and his head and legs were cut off and stuffed inside a trunk. The agents then threw the trunk into the river Seine. Several days later associates of Trotsky received a letter from Klement which accused Trotsky of collaboration with Hitler's Government. They immediately assumed the letter was a forgery because it had been signed with a pseudonym he had not used for some time, and several weeks later in August 1938, Klement's headless corpse was found on the shore of Seine.
The Fall of Yezhov (November 1938)
On 13 June 1938, the Far Eastern NKVD chief Genrikh Lyushkov defected to Japan. Yezhov became worried this incident would reflect badly on his leadership and Stalin began to take measures to replace him. On 22 August 1938, Lavrenty Beria was appointed as Yezhov's deputy, replacing Mikhail Frinovsky who was appointed as People's Commissar for the Navy. Whilst Beria was in Georgia overseeing his replacement as head of the Georgian NKVD, Frinovsky was left in effective control and had several officers who might possibly implicate him shot without trial. Amongst these was Leonid Zakovsky who had been instrumental in the assassination of Abram Slutsky, and was shot on 29 August 1938. Yezhov was now frequently in a drunken depression, and Beria assumed full control over the NKVD and moved to replace key positions with his own loyalists. On 02 November 1938, the head of the foreign department, Sergei Spegielglas was removed from his position and arrested as well as Kazakh NKVD chief Stanislav Redens on the orders of Beria.
On 29 September 1938, Beria replaced Frinovsky as head of the GUGB and initiated another restructure which saw a complete organisational change of the sub-departments of the main directorate of state security which was renamed the NKGB. At his own request, Yezhov was relieved of his position and replaced as head of the People's Commissar for Internal Affairs (NKVD), by Beria on 25 November 1938. With his removal the country saw the end of Yezhovschina/Great Purge and over 100,000 people were released from the gulags, whilst the government admitted that some excesses and mistakes had been made, these were blamed on Yezhov's overzealous cruelty.
Under Beria's leadership the poison laboratory "Special Office" was renamed Laboratory 1 and was re-organised with Grigory Mairanovsky appointed as director. Vsvevolod Merkulov was appointed as Beria's deputy in the NKVD and would assume control, whilst Pavel Sudoplatov would oversee direct supervision of Laboratory 1, which would use gulag inmates for use in experimentation by Mairanovsky and his colleagues who wished to develop a tasteless and odourless chemical that would not be detected. They tested a number of poisons, including cyanide, mustard gas, ricin and curare on prisoners, who were given the meals and drinks laced with deadly biotixins. The results of these experiments would be used by the agents of the foreign department who used poison when conducting assassinations.
After the consolidation of his power, Beria ordered Frinovsky's arrest on 06 April 1939 and four days later Yezhov was taken to the Sukhanovka Prison. Under interrogation, Yezhov confessed to everything his torturers accused him of and many others fell as a result of his confessions. The writer Isaac Babel was a close friend of the Yezhov family and he was arrested on 15 May 1939 and interrogated by Borys Rodos. Rodos had a reputation as a brutal torturer of the NKVD and soon Babel was implicating others in a conspiracy. NKVD intelligence agent Pavel Sudoplatov narrowly missed being purged during the fall of Yehov, and for some time fell out of favour with Stalin. These arrests were part of a new round of repression conducted by Beria's NKVD, which was on a smaller scale to Yezhov's, but no less systematic and bloodthirsty.
The Murder of Zinaida Reich (15 July 1939)
The repressive measures under Beria were still part of Stalin's plans to eliminate anyone who did not conform to his ideals. The arts and culture of the Soviet Union did not escape his determination to subvert anything that did not fall into line with his way of thinking. In the early 1930's he repressed all avante-garde art and experimentation and declared the work of Vsvevolod Meyerhold as antagonistic to the Soviet people. Meyerhold was a theatre director, actor and theatrical producer who's unconventional works made him a target for Stalin who only wanted artists who presented "socialist realism". In April 1937, Meyerhold's wife, the actress Zinaida Reich wrote Stalin a letter stating her husband was the victim of a Trotskyist conspiracy. In December 1937, Stalin's trusted associate Lazar Kaganovich visited the Meyerhold Theatre and watched a production, but walked out in disgust. On 07 January 1939 the theatre was closed by order of the Politburo which claimed the director was too bourgeois and his worked alienated the Soviet people.
Konstantin Stanislavski, the elderly director of the an opera theatre invited Meyerhold to be his assistant, and as he wished on his deathbed, Meyerhold became the director in August 1938. During a production of an opera by Sergei Prokofiev on 17 June 1939, Meyerhold directed a speech to the crowd which was defiant towards Stalin's anti-formalism policies. Amongst the crowd was Andrei Vyshinsky, who had presided as Judge over the Moscow Show Trial, and although the speech was not printed in the press, it had far reaching consequences. Meyerhold was arrested on his arrival at Leningrad on 20 June 1939 by the NKVD. Several weeks later on the evening of 15/15 July two unknown intruders broke into the Meyerhold-Reich apartment and murdered Zinaida Reich. She had been stabbed 17 times, including through her eyes and she bled out before anyone found her during the early morning hours. The perpetrators had ransacked the apartment, in order to staged the murder to look like a botched robbery.
It was believed her murder was orchestrated by the NKVD under Beria, who wished silence the popular but outspoken actress. She had once said of Stalin, "If Stalin can make no sense of Art, let him ask Meyerhold, and he will explain". Meyerhold was held at NKVD headquarters and tortured until he confessed to being a British and Japanese spy for which he was sentenced to death. The Meyerhold-Reich apartment was gifted to Beria's chauffeur.
The NKVD was now firmly under Beria's control and he ordered the deaths of numerous enemies of the state in early 1940. Meyerhold was executed by firing squad on 01 February 1940 as an example to others within the art community to conform to Stalinist ideals. Mikhail Trilisser, the former head of the foreign department under Yagoda had survived both Yagoda and Yezhov's bloodthirsty purges but now fell victim to Beria's intrigues. He had previously been arrested on Beria's orders on 23 November 1938 and was executed on 02 February 1940. Two days later, Frinovsky and Yezhov were both shot by Vasily Blokhin, the same executioner who dispatched Yagoda, Zinoviev and Kamenev.
The Katyn Massacre (April and May 1940)
On 23 August 1939, Stalin's Soviet Government signed a non-agression pact with Hitler's Nazi State. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was sign in Moscow and brought the two countries together into a treaty of neutrality in which Hitler and Stalin promised to refrain from military action against one another. This occurred despite both countries sharing differing ideologies, with Hitler's Mein Kampf strongly opposed to any form of Marxism, Communism and Bolshevism, whilst Stalin abhorred Nationalist sentiments, preferring absolute domination over his allies and enemies. Shortly after the pact, Hitler invaded Western Poland on 01 September 1939 in his quest for Lebenstraum, or living space. In response to this, both Britain and France declared war against Nazi Germany. On 17 September 1939, Stalin ordered the invasion of Eastern Poland and the Red Army swept into the country and met little in the way of resistance.
Hundreds of thousands of Polish soldiers and policemen were captured by the Red Army, and those of Russian ethnicity were released, whilst ethnic Poles were held in NKVD run camps. 43,000 Polish troops captured from Western Poland were transported to the German occupied territory, whilst they received 13,000 Polish prisoners in return. Under Beria's orders, around 25,000 Polish officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers were transferred by the NKVD to camps inside Russia between October 1939 and February 1940 where they were subject to interrogations. The Polish prisoners were questioned at length by NKVD political Commissars to determine who would be susceptible to Soviet Political propaganda, and who would be executed as enemies of the Soviet State.
On 05 March 1940, the Poliburo signed an order to execute 25,700 Polish nationalists and counter-revolutionaries. Stalin wished to rectify a potential situation which might result in the Polish officer corps rebelling against Soviet rule. The head of the NKVD POW department, Major General Soprunenko organised the selections of those to be liquidated and included primarily members of the armed forces such as, generals, admirals, soldiers and pilots as well as landowners, government officials, teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, writers, members of the clergy, and civilians. Stalin and Beria ordered the Kommandatura Branch of the Administrative Executive Department of the NKVD under Vasily Blokhin to participate in the executions which began on 04 April 1940.
Transports of Polish prisoners began to arrive at the Katyn Forest near Smolensk where the NKVD had set-up a specially designed chamber insulated with sandbags for the executions. The victim's ID was verified and they were handcuffed and led into the cell and told to kneel. Blokhin or another executioner would approach from behind and fire a shot to the back of the head.
The body was then carried out through another door and placed inside waiting trucks. Then another victim was led into the cell and the process was repeated. The Soviet executioners used primarily German made Walther Model 2 pistols because they were better made for extended use and because the massacre would appear to be perpetrated by the Nazis. They were given shots of vodka to steady their nerves and Blokhin personally shot upwards of 7,000 Polish prisoners from the Kalinin prison over a period of 28 days. In total, 12,000 Polish prisoners were executed at Katyn from April to May 1940.
The Death of Willi Münzenberg (June 1940)
During the time of the Weimar Period, Communism became influential in Post-War Germany and just as many people joined the Nazis, so too did many young men and women flocked to the German Communist Party as a means of escaping the depression imposed by the Versaille Treaty. Willi Munzenberg was one such political activist who joined the Communists and soon became the head of the Young Communist International in 1919/20. He became a leading propagandist in the Communist Party of German (KPD), hoping to replicate the ideals of Marx and Lenin in the Fatherland.
But soon Munzenberg became disenchanted with Communism because of Stalin's excesses during the Great Purge which saw hundreds of thousands of Russians arrested and executed on trumped up charges and falsified confessions from tortured Communists. Stalin ordered the KPD to arrested Munzenberg and tried for treason, however he left the KPD and fled to Paris where he became a leading member amongst the German émigrés of the anti-Stalinist and anti-Fascist community.
He began making anti-Nazi broadcasts but was forced to flee Paris in 1940 when the Germans invaded France during their Blitzkrieg across Europe. He was arrested along with several colleagues by the Daladier Government, and placed inside an internment camp in Southwestern France. Another inmate befriended the group and suggested they escape the camp together, which they did in June 1940. The group fled in the direction of the Swiss border and Munzenberg then became separated from his colleagues, it was the last time anyone saw him. On 17 October 1940, French hunters found his decomposing body at the foot of an oak tree. His body was found resting on his knees with a knotted cord wrapped tightly around his neck and it appeared he had been suspended from an overhead branch.
The official cause of death was suicide, and his fellow camp inmates were not questioned, however several eyewitnesses later testified Munzenberg was in high spirits before and after his escape to freedom. The primary theory would seem to indicate Munzenberg and his group had met with an undercover NKVD agent at the camp, who helped the men escape in order to assassinate him. Other theories support the view that he was killed by members of the Gestapo for his anti-Nazi broadcasts and communist sympathies or he committed suicide to avoid re-capture. Despite the uncertainty surrounding his potential murder, both the Soviets and Nazis benefited from his death.
The Assassination of Leon Trotsky (21 August 1940)
Leon Trotsky was perhaps Stalin's most dangerous adversary. An Old Bolshevik from the early days of the Russian Revolutions and a close personal friend and confidant to Vladimir Lenin, Trotsky was often in dispute with Stalin over matters of both practical politics and communist ideology. During the Civil War, Trotsky had distinguished himself as commander of the Red Army and subsequently held numerous important positions within the Bolshevik Government. As a member of the Politburo, he was one of the most powerful of the Old Bolsheviks and shortly before Lenin's death, he was seen as the chosen successor, whilst Lenin openly criticised Stalin and privately called for Trotsky to denounce him. His failure to act against Stalin saw him lose significant power after the death of Lenin on 21 January 1924, and he was sidelined to insignificant positions, whilst Stalin's influence and power grew.
By early 1926 he formed an alliance with Zinoviev and Kamenev, against Stalin, which became known as the United Opposition. Stalin repeatedly blocked any attempts by Trotsky to gain influence within the Communist Party and his supporters were regularly expelled from the Party, intimidated and even arrested. In October 1927 Trotsky was expelled from the Central Committee after the disastrous foreign policy towards the Chinese Communist Revolution and after attempting to organise demonstrations, was himself expelled from the Party on 12 November 1927. He went into self-imposed exile in February 1929, taking his wife and son to Turkey. In his absence, his former supporters renounced their Trotskyist views and were re-admitted to the Communist Party.
After the assassination of Leningrad Party leader Kirov on 01 December 1934, Stalin and Yagoda began the Great Purge which saw hundreds of thousands arrested and imprisoned for various crimes, including harbouring Trotskyist views, being German intelligence agents and attempting to undermine Stalin's leadership. On 19 August 1936, the first Moscow Show Trial began which saw sixteen Old Bolshevik's put on trial accused of being part of a Trotslyist-Zinoviev plot, and all the accused including Zinoviev and Kamenev were executed.
In 1938 Trotsky established the Fourth International, which he intended to be an alternative to the Stalinist interpretation of the Comintern. Stalin saw this as a threat to the Soviet Government and ordered Beria to plan Trotsky's assassination. Stalin and Beria assigned overall command of the operation to Pavel Sudoplatov, and he in turn set-up several networks of agents to carry out the murder, which was facilitated by Gaik Ovakimian, better known as the "Puppetmaster" who oversaw the Golos spy ring in America. On 24 May 1940, Trotsky survived an attempt on his life when an NKVD team of assassins launched a raid of his villa in Mexico.
Sudoplatov had simultaneously been attempting to infiltrate Trotsky's Paris Organisation run by his son Lev Sedov. NKVD agent Mark Zborowski using the alias Etienne, had befriended Sedov and soon became indispensable because he spoke fluent Russian. Zborowski provided useful information to his NKVD handlers and was possibly involved in Sedov's death on 08 February 1938. Zborowski then assumed control of the Paris Organization and introduced another NKVD undercover agent, Ramon Mercador to one of Trotsky's friends, Sylvia Ageloff. She soon unwittingly infiltrated Mercader into Trotsky's household. On 20 August 1940, Mercader entered Trotsky's study and whilst he began reading an article, Mercader struck him in the head with an ice axe he had hidden about his person. The assault was bungled and Trotsky, although badly wounded, began to struggle with his attacker and his bodyguards soon entered and subdued Mercader.
Trotsky was taken to hospital where he was operated on but eventually died the following day. It was reported his last words were, "I will not survive this attack. Stalin has finally accomplished the task he attempted unsuccessfully before." Mercader was arrested and imprisoned for his part in the murder and was awarded with the Hero of the Soviet Union upon his release. Although his chief rival Trotsky was dead, Stalin would soon face an even bigger challenge to his authority when Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, his invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.
Written by Nucleus