Nikolai Leonov

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For former Russian footballer, see Nikolay Nikolayevich Leonov.

Nikolai Sergeyevich Leonov (born August 22, 1928) is a Russian nationalist politician and was a senior KGB officer and Latin America expert in the USSR. In 1953, at the age of 25, Leonov was posted to Mexico City, where he learned Spanish at the Autonomous University. In the course of the sea voyage, he met Raúl Castro, who was returning from a European youth festival. On arrival in Mexico he took up a junior post in the Soviet embassy.

In 1955, Leonov met Che Guevara in Mexico City through Raúl Castro. Leonov violated Russian embassy rules by visiting Guevara who was fascinated with Soviet life. After answering some of Guevara's questions, Leonov gave him Soviet literature. When Guevara went to the embassy to pick up the books the two men talked more, that was the last time they talked in Mexico[1] Recalled to Moscow in November 1956, Leonov was discharged from the foreign service, and deciding to pursue a career as a historian of Latin America, went to work as a translator for the official Soviet Spanish-language publishing house, Editorial Progreso. In the late summer of 1958 he was invited to join the KGB. On 1 September he began a two-year intelligence training course, that was interrupted, according to him, by the Cuban Revolution. In October 1959 his superiors ordered him to leave his studies and accompany Anastas Mikoyan to Mexico.

In February 1960, he accompanied Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan on his visit to Havana, where he renewed his contact with Che, to whom he gave a precision marksman's pistol, "on behalf of the Soviet people". During the 1960s he served as a senior KGB officer stationed in Mexico. During the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, he received regular reports from agents in Florida with respect to American military preparations. He felt sure at the time that a nuclear confrontation would not be the result of the crisis. He served as interpreter on Fidel Castro's visit to the Soviet Union in 1963. In 1968 Leonov was recalled to Moscow, where he became a senior analyst. A report compiled by his office in 1975 recognised the growing peril to the power of the Soviet Union in geo-political terms, arguing that in keeping with the policy of the British Empire before it, the Soviet Union should limit the commitment of its resources to a few key areas from which its power could operate in a more selective fashion. The report suggested establishing a Soviet foothold on the Arabian Peninsula, in 'the most Marxist country' in the region, South Yemen. The report was returned to Leonov's office without Andropov's signature of approval. In the late 70s and early 80s he travelled frequently to Poland to assess the situation and reportedly told the head of the KGB Yuri Andropov, in a heated discussion, that the prospects of Polish socialism looked bleak.

Between 1983 and January 1991, Leonov was Deputy Chief of the First Chief Directorate of the State Security Committee (KGB) of the Soviet Union, the second most important post within the KGB structure. Previously he was Sub-Director of the KGB’s Analysis and Information Department (1973-1982) and Sub-Director of its Latin American Department (1968-1972). Leonov has a Doctorate in Latin American History, from the USSR Academy of Sciences, and is author of the book Essays on Contemporary Central American History (Moscow: Academy of Sciences, 1973). In 1985 he published his memoirs under the title Difficult Times. As of 1998 he was a professor at the Institute of International Relations in Moscow.

In December 2003, Leonov was elected to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, as a member of the nationalist Rodina party. He is closely identified with the current Kremlin administration and is a long-time friend and mentor of his former KGB subordinate, President Vladimir Putin.


  1. ^ Anderson, Jon Lee (1997). Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Grove Press. pp. 173–174.