Pavel Sudoplatov

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Pavel Sudoplatov
Pavel Sudoplatov.jpg
Pavel Sudoplatov in NKGB/MGB lieutenant general uniform
Birth namePavel Anatolyevich Sudoplatov
BornJuly 7, 1907 (1907-07-07)
Melitopol, Russian Empire
DiedSeptember 24, 1996 (1996-09-25) (aged 89)[1][2][3]
Moscow, Russia
AllegianceSoviet Union Soviet Union
Service/branchNKVD Emblem (Gradient).svg NKVD
Years of service1919–1953
RankCCCP army Rank general-lejtnant infobox.svg Lieutenant General
Commands heldState Political Directorate
People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs
Ministry for State Security (Soviet Union)
Main Directorate of Intelligence
Ministry of Internal Affairs (Russia)
Battles/warsRussian Civil War
Spanish Civil War
World War II
Cold War

Pavel Anatolyevich Sudoplatov (Russian: Пáвел Aнатóльевич Cудоплáтов; July 7, 1907 – September 24, 1996)[1][2][3] was a member of the intelligence services of the Soviet Union; over a career spanning 34 years, he would ultimately attain the rank of lieutenant general in the Soviet Armed Forces.[4] Sudoplatov was involved in several major Soviet intelligence operations, including the assassination of Leon Trotsky in 1940, as well as Operation Scherhorn, a Soviet deception operation conducted during World War II. He also stated that he was in charge of the Soviet espionage program which obtained information about the atomic bomb from the Manhattan Project. His autobiography, Special Tasks, published in 1994, made him well known outside the USSR, and provided a detailed account of Soviet intelligence and Soviet internal politics during his years at the top.[5][6][7] However, some of the claims Sudoplatov made have been challenged by historians.[8][9]

Early life and career[edit]

Sudoplatov was born in Melitopol, Taurida Governorate, Russian Empire (in present-day Zaporizhzhia Oblast, Ukraine), to a Russian mother and a Ukrainian father, and was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1919, at the age of 12, he left home and joined a Red Army regiment near Melitopol. He served in combat against both the White Army and the Ukrainian nationalist movement during the Russian Civil War.

Functions in political police and intelligence apparatus[edit]

Sudoplatov was recruited into the Cheka in 1921, at the age of fourteen, and was promoted to the Secret Political Department (SPO) of the Ukrainian State Political Directorate (OGPU) in 1927.[6]

He transferred to the Soviet OGPU in 1933, moving to Moscow, and soon after became an "illegal", operating under cover in a number of European countries.

Assassination of Yevhen Konovalets[edit]

On May 23, 1938, Sudoplatov assassinated the Ukrainian nationalist leader Yevhen Konovalets in Rotterdam by giving him a box of chocolates containing a bomb.[10]

According to Sudoplatov, the order to assassinate Konovalets came directly from Joseph Stalin, who had personally told him: "This is not just an act of revenge, although Konovalets is an agent of German fascism. Our goal is to behead the movement of Ukrainian fascism on the eve of the war and force these "gangsters" to annihilate each other in a struggle for power."[6]: 23–24 

After delivering the bomb to Konovalets, Sudoplatov calmly walked away and waited nearby to verify that it had successfully detonated.[6] He then walked to Rotterdam's railway station and boarded a train for Paris. Soon after, with the assistance of the NKVD, Sudoplatov was smuggled into the Second Spanish Republic, where he briefly served in combat against Francisco Franco's Nationalists.

Due to his sudden disappearance, both the Dutch police and the OUN immediately suspected Sudoplatov of Konovalets' murder. Consequently, a photograph of Sudoplatov and Konovalets together was distributed to every OUN unit. According to Sudoplatov, "[i]n the 1940s, SMERSH [...] captured two guerilla fighters in Western Ukraine, one of whom had this photo of me on him. When asked why he was carrying it, he replied, "I have no idea why, but the order is if we find this man to liquidate him".[6]: 16 


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, during the Great Purges, which later culminated in the fall of Nikolai Yezhov (who was eventually replaced by Lavrentiy Beria). Shortly afterward, Sudoplatov narrowly escaped being purged himself.[7]

Assassination of Leon Trotsky[edit]

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.[5]


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.

Peace offer 1941[edit]

In late July 1941, under the orders of Lavrentiy 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 the USSR.[6][11] No one knows if this proposition was genuine or if it was an attempt of the USSR to gain time.[citation needed]

"Department S" and atomic bomb[edit]

In February 1944, Beria allegedly named Sudoplatov to head the newly formed Department S, which, according to Sudoplatov, united both the army intelligence (GRU) and NKVD intelligence in an effort to aid and secure the Soviet atomic bomb project. Sudoplatov's exact role and contribution, as well as his claim that he "engineered the theft of atomic secrets from the United States with the aid of four eminent scientists"[5] is under discussion, since, according to the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia, Department S was established in September 1945, and Sudoplatov had limited access to the Soviet atomic effort from that time until October 1946 and did not have any access to foreign agents tasked with collecting the atomic intelligence.[9][12][13] In 1995, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) conducted an investigation and declared that it "is not in possession of any credible evidence that would suggest that Neils [sic] Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, or Leo Szilard engaged in any espionage activity on behalf of any foreign power [...], the F.B.I. has classified information available that argues against the conclusions reached by the author of 'Special Tasks.' The F.B.I., therefore, considers such allegations to be unfounded".[14]


In the summer of 1946, Sudoplatov 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 guerrilla Ukrainian nationalist 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.[6]

Arrest, trial and imprisonment[edit]

After the fall of Lavrentiy Beria, Sudoplatov was arrested on August 21, 1953, as his alleged collaborator in crimes. He feigned madness to avoid being executed with Beria and so was tried only in 1958.[15] He was accused, among other things, of involvement with Grigory Mairanovsky's laboratory of death:

As established [during the court trial], Beria and his accomplices committed terrible crimes against humanity: they tested deadly poisons, which caused agonizing death, on live humans. A special laboratory, which was established for experiments on the action of poisons on living humans, worked under the supervision of Sudoplatov and his deputy Eitingon from 1942 to 1946. They demanded he provide them only with poisons that had been tested on humans [...].[15]

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. After serving the full term (he was housed with a number of Stalin's top assistants who were also imprisoned), he was duly released in August 1968.

Later life and memoirs[edit]

Sudoplatov worked for some time as a German and Ukrainian translator and also published, under the pen name "Anatoliy Andreev", three books based on his activities during World War II.

After an extensive letter writing campaign, including a publicity effort during the glasnost era of the late 1980s, he was finally rehabilitated and cleared of wrongdoing on 10 January 1992, after the December 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. In his memoirs, he wrote with bitterness 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, Sudoplatov's autobiography, Special Tasks,[6] based partly on Sudoplatov's own memories and partly on some KGB documents, written with the help of his son Anatoliy and two American writers, was published and caused a considerable uproar.[5] In addition to extensive details of many Soviet intelligence-operations during Sudoplatov's career and a similarly-extensive discussion of the political machinations in the intelligence services and the Soviet government, it claimed that a number of Western scientists who had worked on the atomic bomb project, such as Robert Oppenheimer, although not recruited agents for the Soviets, had provided important information.[6]: 190–192  The American media initially treated the revelation as a scoop,[16][17] but the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service and the American Federal Bureau of Investigation would later dispute such claims, while American and Russian scientists and historians have dismissed them.[9][18][19][8]

Sudoplatov died on September 24, 1996[1][2][3] and was buried next to his wife in the New Donskoy Cemetery in Moscow.

Honours and awards[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Vronskaya, Jeanne (29 September 1996). "Obituary: Pavel Sudaplatov". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2022-05-25. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  2. ^ a b c David Stout (28 September 1996). "Pavel Sudoplatov, 89, Dies; Top Soviet Spy Who Accused Oppenheimer". The New York Times. p. 1 13. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  3. ^ a b c "PAVEL SUDOPLATOV, 89, DIES". The Washington Post. September 27, 1996. Retrieved 31 October 2021.
  4. ^ Судоплатов П.А. Спецоперации. Лубянка и Кремль 1930–1950 годы. — М.: ОЛМА-ПРЕСС, 1997.(in Russian)
  5. ^ a b c d David Stout. Pavel Sudoplatov, 89, Dies; Top Soviet Spy Who Accused Oppenheimer. The New York Times, September 28, 1996.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Sudoplatov, Pavel, Anatoliĭ Pavlovich Sudoplatov, Jerrold L. Schecter, and Leona Schecter. Special Tasks: The Memoirs of an Unwanted Witness, a Soviet Spymaster. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994.
  7. ^ a b Trahair, R. C. S. Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004, pp. 392–393.
  8. ^ a b "Pavel A. Sudoplatov". Atomic Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2021-09-17.
  9. ^ a b c Atomic Spies?: The Implosion of the Sudoplatov Charges. Journal of the Federation of American Scientists, Volume 47, No 3, May/June 1994. Archived 2014-04-27 at the Wayback Machine}
  10. ^ Christopher Andrew, Vasili Mitrokhin. The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. Basic Books (1999) ISBN 0-465-00312-5 p. 86
  11. ^ "Archives show Stalin was ready to give Hitler Ukraine and the Baltics". 20 June 2016. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  12. ^ McMillan, P. J. Flimsy memoirs. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1994, July–August, pp. 30–33.
  13. ^ Leskov, Sergei. An unreliable witness. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1994, July–August, pp. 33–36
  14. ^ William J. Broad. F.B.I. Rejects An Account Of Treason. The New York Times, 3 May 1995.
  15. ^ a b Vadim J. Birstein. The Perversion Of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science. Westview Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8133-4280-5
  16. ^ Time Magazine, April 25, 1994. Time magazine's managing editor James R. Gaines expressed regrets over his decision to publish nine-page excerpt from Sudoplatov's book on 25 April 1994 without consulting experts (Washington Post, 2 May 1995).
  17. ^ Mac-Neil/Lehrer News Hour, April 18, 1994.
  18. ^ Vladislav Zubok. Atomic espionage and its soviet "witnesses". Cold War International History Project Bulletin, 4 (Fall 1994), pp. 50–53.
  19. ^ Thomas Powers. Were the Atomic Scientists Spies? The New York Review of Books, June 9, 1994.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Pavel Sudoplatov's profile at the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service website
  • Pavel Sudoplatov's grave