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Ivan Serov

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Ivan Serov
Иван Серов
1st Chairman of the
Committee for State Security (KGB)
In office
13 March 1954 – 8 December 1958
PremierGeorgy Malenkov
Nikolai Bulganin
Nikita Khrushchev
Preceded bySergei Kruglov
Succeeded byAleksandr Shelepin
People's Commissar for Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR
In office
Personal details
Ivan Alexandrovich Serov
Иван Александрович Серов

13 August 1905
Afimskoye, Kadnikovsky Uyezd, Vologda Governorate, Russian Empire
Died1 July 1990(1990-07-01) (aged 84)
Krasnogorsk, Moscow Oblast, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Political partyCommunist Party of the Soviet Union (1926–1965)
Military service
Allegiance Soviet Union
Years of service1923–1965
Rank Major general

Ivan Alexandrovich Serov (Russian: Ива́н Алекса́ндрович Серóв; 13 August 1905 – 1 July 1990) was a Soviet intelligence officer who served as Chairman of the KGB from March 1954 to December 1958 and Director of the GRU from December 1958 to February 1963. Serov was NKVD Commissar of the Ukrainian SSR from 1939 to 1941 and Deputy Commissar of the NKVD under Lavrentiy Beria from 1941 to 1954.

Serov was active in organizing NKVD activities against anti-Soviet forces during the Soviet Invasion of Poland and World War II, including the Katyn massacre. Serov issued the Serov Instructions and helped organize the mass deportations of people from Poland, Baltic states and the Caucasus. Serov helped establish secret police forces in the Eastern Bloc after the war and played an important role in suppressing the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.[1][page needed] Serov was removed from power in 1963 when his protégé Oleg Penkovsky was exposed as a double agent. Serov was stripped of his position, Communist Party membership and Hero of the Soviet Union award in 1965, and lived in obscurity until his death in 1990.

Early life and military career


Ivan Alexandrovich Serov was born on 13 August 1905 in Afimskoe, a village in the Vologda Governorate of the Russian Empire, into a Russian peasant family.[2] In 1923, when he was 18-years-old, Serov joined the Red Army shortly after the end of the Russian Civil War. In 1926, he became a member of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), and in 1928 graduated from the Artillery Officers' School of Leningrad.[3] A major step in his career as a Red Army officer was his attendance in the mid-1930s of Higher Academic Courses in the prestigious Frunze Military Academy.[4] He married during these years and had two children: a son, Vladimir, who became an engineering officer in the USSR Air Force followed by a daughter, Svetlana.[5]

Commissar of Ukraine


In 1939, Serov joined the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the main security agency and secret police of the Soviet Union. He was appointed to the high-ranking position of NKVD Commissar of the Ukrainian SSR in 1940. As well as performing his duties in this post, Serov was also responsible for the co-ordination of deportation from the Baltic States and Poland.[5] He was one of the top ranked officials responsible for the Katyn massacre of Polish officer POWs.[6][7]

In 1956, an article in Time magazine accused Serov of being responsible for the death of "hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian peasants" during this period.[8] Serov was also a colleague in Ukraine of Nikita Khrushchev, the local Head of State.[5][9]

Deputy Commissar of the NKVD


In 1941, Serov was promoted to Deputy Commissar of the NKVD as a whole, becoming one of the primary lieutenants of NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria. In this function, Serov was responsible for the mass deportation of a variety of Caucasian peoples, including the deportation of the Chechens. He issued the so-called Serov Instructions, which detailed procedures for mass deportations from the Baltic States, which was for some time confused with the NKVD Order No. 001223 by historians.[10] He also coordinated the mass expulsion of Crimean Tatars from the Crimean ASSR at the end of World War II. Viktor Suvorov claims that in 1946, Serov had oversight of the execution of Andrey Vlasov and the rest of the command of the Russian Liberation Army, an organization that had co-operated with the Nazis in World War II.[6]

Serov was one of the senior figures in SMERSH, the wartime counterintelligence department of the Red Army, Soviet Navy and NKVD troops, serving as a deputy to Viktor Abakumov. It was in this function that he founded the Ministry of Public Security, the secret police of the Soviet-backed Polish People's Republic until 1956, acting as its main Soviet adviser and organizer. Serov organized the persecution of the anti-Soviet Home Army and helped to establish Stalinism in Poland.

In 1945, Serov was transferred to the 2nd Belorussian Front and went to Berlin in May that year. He stayed there until 1947 and helped to organise a security agency that would become the Stasi, the secret police of the German Democratic Republic.[11] Serov was also there to monitor and spy on Marshal Georgy Zhukov (who Stalin was personally suspicious of) while acting as his political advisor.

Chairman of the KGB


After the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953, Serov was one of the few senior members of the political police to survive the wave of demotions and forced retirements of Stalinist officials. Serov, who had Beria's trust, betrayed him when he conspired with officers of GRU to avoid his own downfall.

In March 1954, Serov was appointed Chairman of the KGB, making him head of the greater part of the Soviet secret police. Serov organized security for the tours of Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev in the United Kingdom, where he was decried by the British media as "Ivan the Terrible" and "the Butcher".[10]



Serov played a key role in the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 which attempted to overthrow the Soviet-backed Hungarian People's Republic. Serov was active in Hungary, sending reports to the Kremlin from Budapest, and escorting visiting Soviet Presidium leaders Anastas Mikoyan and Mikhail Suslov via an armoured personnel carrier into Budapest on 24 October, as there was too much shooting in the streets.[12] Serov organized the deportation of Hungarian revolutionaries, including Nagy, and also tried stopping The Workers' Council of Budapest from negotiating for the return of deportees and political rights, using Soviet troops to prevent the council from meeting in the city's Sports Hall.[8] Serov co-ordinated the abduction of Pál Maléter and the disruption of peace talks between the Red Army and the Hungarian forces.[5]

Director of the GRU


In December 1958, Serov was removed from his post as Chairman of the KGB after hints by Khrushchev, who had said that Western visitors could expect that they "wouldn't see so many policemen around the place" and that the Soviet police force would undergo a restructuring. Serov was instead appointed as the Director of the GRU, with the official reason being a need to strengthen the agency's leadership. Serov was active in the Cuban Missile Crisis, helping the Soviet leadership with American intelligence.

Removal from power


In February 1963, Serov was dismissed as Director of the GRU when it was discovered that Oleg Penkovsky, a GRU colonel and his protégé, was a double agent spying for the British. The affair was an embarrassment and irreparably damaged his reputation. Khrushchev, feeling he could no longer trust Serov, had him appointed to an unimportant position as assistant to the commander of the Turkestan Military District. A month later, he was demoted to major general. In August, he was transferred to the Volga Military District. In November 1964, Serov wrote a letter to the Politburo expressing his dismay at his treatment in the aftermath of the Penkovsky affair. In April 1965, he was stripped of his party membership and dismissed. Serov spent the rest of his life unsuccessfully seeking rehabilitation in the eyes of the public, restoration of his party membership, and the return of his rank of general and Hero of the Soviet Union to him.



Serov died in 1990 at the Central Military Clinical Hospital in Krasnogorsk. He was buried at the cemetery in the village of Ilyinskoye in Krasnogorsky District, Moscow Oblast.[13]

Awards and decorations

Soviet Union
Hero of the Soviet Union (29 May 1945) (deprived on 12 March 1963)
Order of Lenin, seven times (26 April 1940, 13 December 1942, 29 May 1945, 30 January 1951, 19 September 1952, 25 August 1955) (third award deprived on 12 March 1963)
Order of the Red Banner, five times (20 September 1943, 7 July 1944, 3 November 1944, 5 November 1954, 31 December 1955)
Order of Suvorov, 1st class (8 March 1944) (deprived on 6 April 1962)
Order of Kutuzov, 1st class, twice (24 April 1945, 18 December 1956)
Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class (11 March 1985)
Medal "For the Defence of Stalingrad" (22 December 1942)
Medal "For the Defence of Moscow" (1 May 1944)
Medal "For the Defence of Leningrad" (22 December 1942)
Medal "For the Defence of the Caucasus" (1 May 1944)
Medal "For the Liberation of Warsaw" (9 June 1945)
Medal "For the Capture of Berlin" (9 June 1945)
Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" (9 May 1945)
  • jubilee medals


Patriotic Order of Merit in gold (East Germany)
Gold's Cross of the Virtuti Militari (Poland)
Order of the Cross of Grunwald, 2nd class (Poland)
Medal "For Oder, Neisse and the Baltic" (Poland)
Medal "For Warsaw 1939-1945" (Poland)

Serov's award of the Gold's Cross of the Virtuti Militari was posthumously deprived in 1995 by the decision of the President of Poland Lech Wałęsa.[15]



In MI5 files about Serov, British agents who had met him called him "something of a ladies' man," good mannered, carefully dressed and a moderate drinker. He displayed a considerable familiarity with detective fiction such as Sherlock Holmes. His sense of humour was somewhat heavy, and his jokes were broadly sarcastic and, on occasion, strongly anti-Semitic.[16]

According to the MI5 reports, Serov was "a capable organiser with a cunning mind".[16]



Serov, although generally considered less significant than Beria in modern literature, helped to bring Stalinism to Europe and to Stalinise the Soviet Union. Serov's consolidation of Soviet power in Eastern Europe was helped by his organization of both the Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (Polish Intelligence Service) in Poland and the Stasi in East Germany.

Cultural references


Serov makes a brief appearance at the beginning of Ian Fleming's 1957 James Bond novel From Russia, With Love. Fleming writes that he "was in every respect a bigger man than Beria" and that "he, with Bulganin and Khrushchev, now ruled Russia. One day, he might even stand on the peak, alone."

Serov also briefly features in the 1950s novel Berlin by the German anti-Nazi writer Theodor Plievier, who lived in the USSR throughout the Hitler years. Plievier says Serov was nicknamed chramoi (which he translates as "Old Cripple Foot", Russian: хромой, lit.'lame, limping'), a reference to a supposed deformity (presumably a club foot).[17]


  • Nikita Petrov, "The First Chairman of the KGB: Ivan Serov" (Pervy predsedatel KGB : Ivan Serov), Moscow: Materik (2005) ISBN 5-85646-129-0
  • Johanna Granville, The First Domino: International Decision Making During the Hungarian Crisis of 1956, Texas A & M University Press, 2004. ISBN 1-58544-298-4
  • Viktor Suvorov, "Inside Soviet Military Intelligence" (1984), ISBN 0-02-615510-9


  1. ^ Erwin A Schmidl, Laszlo Ritter, Peter Dennis, The Hungarian Revolution 1956, 2006 ISBN 978-1-84603-079-6
  2. ^ "Серов Иван Александрович". warheroes.ru. Retrieved 2024-03-02.
  3. ^ Jeanne Vronskaya, Vladimir Chuguev, A biographical dictionary of the Soviet Union 1917-1988, 1989. p. 375
  4. ^ H.W. Wilson Company, Current biography yearbook, vol 17, 1957
  5. ^ a b c d Arneson, R. Gordon (30 September 1958). "Biography of Ivan Aleksandrovich Serov" (PDF). CIA Reading Room. Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency. pp. 4–5. Retrieved 9 October 2023.
  6. ^ a b Suvorov, V.: Inside Soviet Military Intelligence. Appendix A.
  7. ^ William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004: ISBN 0-393-32484-2), p. 370: "He had helped organize the Katyn Forest massacre of Polish officers, had helped Stalinize Ukraine and the Baltics, had deported the Crimean Tatars and other 'lesser' peoples, had pacified Soviet-occupied East Germany, and had been Beria's MVD first deputy in Stalin's last years."
  8. ^ a b "The Shadow of Ivan Serov": Time, December 3, 1956. Retrieved November 25, 2007.
  9. ^ BBC h2g2: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: retrieved November 25, 2007.
  10. ^ a b "Dropping the Cop": Time, December 22, 1958. Retrieved November 25, 2007.
  11. ^ Koehler, J.: "Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police" ISBN 0-8133-3409-8
  12. ^ Johanna Granville, trans., "Soviet Documents on the Hungarian Revolution, 24 October - 4 November 1956", Cold War International History Project Bulletin, no. 5 (Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Washington, DC), Spring, 1995, pp. 22-23, 29-34.
  13. ^ "СЕРОВ Иван Александрович (1905 – 1990)". moscow-tombs.ru. Retrieved May 21, 2022.
  14. ^ "Ива́н Алекса́ндрович Серóв". warheroes.ru. Retrieved May 22, 2021.
  15. ^ Łydka, Andrzej (2015-03-27). "Aresztowanie przywódców Państwa Podziemnego" [Arrest of leaders of the Underground State]. Polska Zbrojna (in Polish). Retrieved May 22, 2022.
  16. ^ a b Archives, The National (February 28, 2014). "The National Archives - When 'Ivan the terrible' visited Britain". The National Archives blog.
  17. ^ Theodor Plievier, Berlin (Mayflower Books, 1976) p.247 ISBN 0-586-02906-0
Government offices
Preceded byas Minister of State Security Chairman of the
Committee for State Security

Succeeded by
Preceded by People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs of Ukraine
Succeeded by