Obituary: Pavel Sudaplatov

Pavel Sudoplatov was the most sinister man in the Communist system. He was also the most secret, both in the former Soviet Union and during Perestroika, until three years ago, when his name appeared for the first time in the Russian press.

He was head of special operations of the NKVD (better known as the KGB) death squads that carried out "special tasks" - kidnappings and assassinations of Stalin's political opponents all over Europe in the 1930s, the Second World War and the post-war years.

He admitted publicly that he had carried out one assassination in the West, but Russian researchers into the subject think that he was personally responsible for many more.

In 1953, after the arrest of Lavrenti Beria, the head of Stalin's secret police, he was one of two-dozen people arrested, and he went on to serve 15 years in prison, not for the crimes he had committed but as one of Beria's close associates.

Sudoplatov was born in 1907 in Melitopol (then a small town of 20,000 inhabitants) in southern Ukraine, one of the sons of a Ukrainian grain miller and a Russian mother. There were five children. Pavel was baptised in the Russian Orthodox Church and went to a Russian school, but was completely bi-lingual in the Russian and Ukrainian languages.

In 1919 his elder brother Nikolai joined a battalion of the Cheka (the KGB's original name) and was killed shortly afterwards. Like his brother, as a teenager Pavel also joined the Cheka. He took part in the ruthless Cheka operations against the Ukrainian nationalist leaders Simon Petliura (who was assassinated in Paris in 1926 by a Cheka agent, Shvartsbard) and Yevgeni Konovalets, one of the leaders of the independent Ukraine. By 1922 the Russian civil war had ended and Ukraine was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union.

In 1927 Sudoplatov was promoted to the secret political department of the Ukrainian OGPU (another name for the KGB) in Kharkov, Ukraine's second largest city. Here in 1928 he met Emma Kaganova, originally from Gomel, who became his common-law wife. They married in 1951. Kaganova was a much more senior officer in the secret police than Sudaplatov was and promoted him. In the early 1930s both moved to Moscow. Before long both were acting as illegal agents operating all over Europe.

During the Spanish Civil War Sudoplatov posed as a Polish volunteer on the Republican side. In fact he headed a foreign guerrilla warfare group run by the NKVD (another name of the KGB). It was in Spain that he met a young lieutenant Ramon Mercader del Rio, the future assassin of Trotsky in Mexico. It was Sudoplatov's friend and close associate in the NKVD Naum Eitingon who made Ramon's mother, Caridad, his mistress and recruited Mercader for the "murder of the century", as it was called at the time, on 20 August 1940.

In 1937, after General Franco's victory, both fled Spain. Eitingon stayed briefly in France where he ran Guy Burgess (of the Cambridge spy ring) and lived with Caridad Mercader, while Sudoplatov went to Belgium. He was one of several dozen operative agents of cells carrying out "special tasks" - he used the phrase for the title of his memoirs - such as kidnapping and the murder of Stalin's opponents.

One such task was to eliminate Yevgeni Konovalets, against whom he had fought as a Cheka teenager. He managed to befriend him by pretending to be a Ukrainian nationalist and on 23 May 1938, in Rotterdam, presented him with a box of chocolates containing a bomb, which blew up in Konovalets's face. Watching opposite in a cafe, Sudaplatov then quietly took a taxi and went to Brussels and from there to Paris. He returned to Moscow, where he was met as a hero and presented to the head of the NKVD, Nikolai Yezhov, and the rising star in Stalin's secret police, Lavrenti Beria.

During the Second World War Sudoplatov was the head of the NKVD's sabotage and diversions operations throughout the German-occupied territories of the Soviet Union. He was also at the centre of Soviet atomic espionage which was transferred from the GRU - Military Intelligence - to the Foreign Intelligence Directorate of the NKVD, where Sudoplatov was deputy director until 1942.

With the help of people like Bruno Pontecorvo (who defected to the Soviet Union), Klaus Fuchs (who was arrested and convicted) and hundreds of other sympathisers who supplied Beria (then supervising Soviet atomic espionage) with secrets from the United States and Britain, the Soviet physicist Igor Kurchatov and his team of scientists were given enough information to create the Soviet atomic bomb.

In the post-war years Sudaplatov continued to be in charge both of illegal operations against NATO installations in Europe and a disinformation campaign particularly against West Germany and the US. In a purge during the power struggle after Stalin's death (in March 1953) Sudoplatov was arrested (shortly after his boss, Beria, in August that year) and became prisoner number eight in a cell, first in the basement of Lubianka (later Butyrka) jail, where he tried simulating lunacy. He was such a hated figure in the now prevailing anti-Stalinist atmosphere that political inmates arrested by his organisation gave him a severe beating. Sentenced to 15 years in jail for his association with Beria, he was eventually released in 1969.

Decades on, he was approached by an American journalist couple, Gerrold and Leona Schecter, to write his memoirs. He was unwilling to tell them anything, but eventually they persuaded him through his lecturer son, Anatoly, who helped him with Special Tasks: the memoirs of an unwanted witness - a Soviet spymaster, which was published by Little, Brown and Company in 1994. Sudaplatov's wife Emma, a veteran of the KGB, died in 1988.

In 1992 Sudaplatov was rehabilitated after years of campaigning from his KGB friends and relatives, and his military rank of lieutenant-general was restored. This caused controversy and protests from the many victims of his organisation who were still alive.

His memoirs appeared in Russian in Moscow only this year (as "Intelligence and the Kremlin", without an index), when nobody was interested any more. He never gave a proper interview to an independent newspaper or television, but only to KGB publications.

Jeanne Vronskaya

Pavel Anatolievich Sudoplatov, KGB agent: born Melitopol 1907; married 1951 Emma Kaganova (died 1988; one son); died Moscow 24 September 1996.

Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Sport
Jose Mourinho restrains his assistant manager Rui Faria, Fabio Borini celebrates his winning penalty and Connor Wickham equalises for Sunderland
sportChelsea 1 Sunderland 2: Deafeat is extra bitter as former Chelsea player Fabio Borini scores late penalty to seal victory
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit