Pavel Sudoplatov

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Pavel Sudoplatov : biography

July 7, 1907 – September 26, 1996

In the fall of 1938, he was made acting director of the Foreign Department of the NKVD (as the OGPU had by then become) after the purging of the previous head, in a set of purges which later culminated in the fall of Nikolai Yezhov (who was eventually replaced by Lavrentii Beria). Shortly afterward, Sudoplatov narrowly escaped being purged himself.

In March, 1939, Stalin rehabilitated Sudoplatov, promoting him to deputy director of the Foreign Department, and placed him in charge of the assassination of Trotsky, which was carried out in August, 1940.

In June, 1941, Sudoplatov was placed in charge of the NKVD’s Administration for Special Tasks, the principal task of which was to carry out sabotage operations behind enemy lines in wartime (both it and the Foreign Department had also been used to carry out assassinations abroad). During World War II, his unit helped organize guerrilla bands, and other secret behind-the-lines units for sabotage and assassinations, to fight the Nazis.

In late July 1941, under the orders of Lavrenti Beria, he met (in a Georgian restaurant in the centre of Moscow) with the Bulgarian ambassador, who was the representative of Germany in USSR, at the time. Sudoplatov asked the ambassador if Hitler would stop penetration of the USSR, in exchange for giving Germany, a large part of USSR. (No one knows if this proposition was true or if it was an attempt of USSR to gain time).

In February, 1944, Beria named Sudoplatov to also head the newly-formed Department S, which united both GRU and NKVD intelligence work on the atomic bomb; he was also given a management role in the Soviet atomic effort, to help with coordination.

In the summer of 1946, he was removed from both posts, and in September he was placed in charge of another group at the newly-renamed MGB, one which was supposed to plan sabotage actions in Western countries. In November, 1949, he was given a temporary job helping suppress a guerilla movement in Ukraine that was a relic of World War II.

In the spring of 1953, around the time of Stalin’s death, Sudoplatov was appointed to head the yet-again renamed MVD’s Bureau of Special Tasks, which was responsible for sabotage operations abroad, and ran networks of "illegals" who were given the task of preparing attacks on military establishments in NATO countries, in the event that NATO attacked the Soviet Union.

Later life

He thereafter worked for some time as a translator, working in German and Ukrainian, and wrote a novel as well as historical items about his work during World War II.

After an extensive campaign, including a publicity effort during the glasnost era, he was finally re-habilitated and cleared of wrongdoing in 1992 a few days after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In his memoirs, he wrote about his rehabilitation:

"The Soviet Union – to which I devoted every fiber of my being and for which I was willing to die; for which I averted my eyes from every brutality, finding justification in its transformation from a backward nation into a superpower; for which I spent long months on duty away from Emma and the children; whose mistakes cost me fifteen years of my life as a husband and father – was unwilling to admit its failure and take me back as a citizen. Only when there was no more Soviet Union, no more proud empire, was I reinstated and my name returned to its rightful place."

In 1994, his autobiography, Special Tasks, based in large part on Sudoplatov’s memory, and written with the help of his son Anatoli and two American writers, was published; it caused a considerable uproar. In addition to extensive details of many Soviet intelligence operations during Sudoplatov’s career, and a similarly extensive discussion of the political machinations inside the intelligence services and the Soviet government, it claimed that a number of Western scientists who had worked on the atomic bomb project, while not agents for the Soviets, had provided useful atomic information; this has been heavily disputed. He was buried in the New Donskoy Cemetery in Moscow.

Honours and awards

  • Order of Lenin
  • Three Orders of the Red Banner
  • Order of Suvorov 2nd class
  • Order of the Patriotic War 1st class
  • Two Orders of the Red Star
  • Medal "For the Defence of Moscow"
  • Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945"
  • Medal "For the Victory over Japan"
  • Medal "Partisan of the Patriotic War" 1st class
  • Medal "For the Defence of the Caucasus"
  • Jubilee Medal "30 Years of the Soviet Army and Navy"
  • Medal "In Commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of Moscow"