Soviet Use of Assassination and Kidnapping - Dagger and Cloak

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Soviet Use of Assassination and Kidnapping

A 1964 view of KGB methods

It has long been known that the Soviet state security service (currently the KGB) resorts to abduction and murder to combat what are considered to be actual or potential threats to the Soviet regime. These techniques, frequently designated as "executive action" and known within the KGB as "liquid affairs" (Mokryye Dela), can be and are employed abroad as well as within the borders of the USSR. They have been used against Soviet citizens, Soviet émigrés, and even foreign nationals. A list of those who have fallen victim to such action over the years would be a very long one and would include even the co-founder of the Soviet state, Leon Trotsky. Several well known Soviet assassination operations which have occurred since the rise of Khrushchev attest to the fact that the present leadership of the USSR still employs this method of dealing with its enemies.

The sudden disappearance or unexpected death of a person known to possess anti-Soviet convictions immediately raises the suspicion of Soviet involvement. Because it is often impossible to prove who is responsible for such incidents, Soviet intelligence is frequently blamed and is undoubtedly credited with successes it actually has not achieved. On the other hand, even in cases where the Soviet hand is obvious, investigation often produces only fragmentary information, due to the KGB ability to camouflage its trail. In addition, Soviet intelligence is doubtless involved in incidents that never become officially recognized as executive action, such as assassinations which are recorded as accidents, suicides, or natural deaths.

All of the factors cited above have helped to obscure Soviet practices in regard to assassinations and abductions outside the USSR. Certain observations can be made, however, which will help to put these practices into their proper perspective. These observations are set forth in the following paragraphs and are based on information produced by the investigation of known or suspected Soviet operations which have occurred since World War II, as well as from information supplied by defectors during this period.


The large numbers of former citizens of the USSR (and of Imperial Russia) living abroad in protest against the Soviet regime have been a continuing cause for concern to the Soviets since the early twenties. Reducing and keeping to a minimum the potential threat to the regime represented by these emigres is one of the functions of the state security service. Soviet intelligence seeks to neutralize, discredit and destroy anti-Soviet groups by luring emigres back to the USSR, by penetrating emigre organizations, and by kidnapping or murdering individual emigres considered to be particularly dangerous.

Emigre leaders who participate in anti-Soviet activities have been primary targets of Soviet abduction or assassination operations. Such operations are sometimes designed to demonstrate that the Soviet regime can strike its enemies anywhere in the world. The Soviets hope thereby to create fear, unrest, confusion, and dissension within emigre organizations, and at the same time deter other emigres from joining their ranks. The planned assassination in February 1954 of Georgiy S. Okolovich, leader of the NTS emigre organization, was to have been a particularly significant step toward achieving this goal, but the act was not carried out because of the defection of state security Captain Nikolay Khokhlov.

On the other hand, assassinations of some emigr6 leaders have been carried out so skillfully as to leave the impression that the victims died from natural causes. Details of some of the techniques used to achieve this were brought to light in 1961 when professional KGB assassin Bogdan Stashinskiy defected to the West and revealed that he had successfully performed two such missions. In 1957 he killed Ukrainian emigre writer Lev Rebet in Munich with a poison vapor gun which left the victim dead of an apparent heart attack. In 1959, the same type of weapon was used on Ukrainian emigre leader Stepan Bandera, although Bandera's death was never fully accepted as having been from natural causes. These cases are discussed in more detail later in this paper.

Executive action is also triggered by any signs of possible disloyalty on the part of Soviet officials abroad. The Soviets have gone to great lengths in the past to silence their intelligence officers who have defected, as evidenced by the assassination of former state security officer Ignace Reiss in 1937 and the unexplained "suicide" of former Soviet military intelligence officer Walter Krivitsky in 1941. In the post-war era, determination to prevent such defections was vividly demonstrated by the unsuccessful attempt to force the wife of Vladimir Petrov to return to the Soviet Union from Australia after his defection in April 1954. The practice of physical restraint applies with equal force to other Soviet officials who attempt to defect or are suspected of being on the verge of doing so. Examples were witnessed in Calcutta, India in January 1958 and Rangoon, Burma in May 1959. The respective victims, Aleksandr F. Zelenovskiy and Mikhail Strygin, were both portrayed by the Soviets as mental cases, were taken into custody by means of strong-arm tactics, and were forcibly removed to the USSR in a matter of days.

Foreign nationals are sometimes victims of Soviet executive action. The targets who fall into this category may be indigenous agents who have become suspect, or former citizens of satellite countries who have turned against the Soviet regime. In the latter case, actions against such individuals are usually carried out through the corresponding satellite intelligence service, aided and abetted by Soviet state security. The abductions of Dr. Walter Linse and Bohumil Lausman exemplify this type of operation. Linse had fled East Germany in 1947 and later became a leader of the "Society of Free jurists," an anti-Communist organization that the Soviets considered particularly dangerous. He was kidnaped from West Berlin in July 1952 by agents of the East German security service, with the full knowledge and approval of Soviet state security; he was later turned over to Soviet authorities in Karlshorst, East Berlin, and eventually sentenced to imprisonment in the USSR.* Lausman, prominent Czech anti-communist who fled to the West in 1949, disappeared from Vienna in 1953. It was later learned that he had been kidnapped by agents of Czech intelligence, with the official sanction of Moscow. The Soviet state security rezidentura in Vienna also had been directed to assist the operation by supplying a car for transportating Lausman to Prague and arranging for the vehicle to have free passage through the Soviet Zone of Austria.

Foreign political leaders are also potential targets of Soviet executive action operations and, according to recent information, the KGB's executive action component includes such persons among its targets. There is, however, no evidence proving that any Western leader has been the victim of Soviet executive action.

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