Great-grandson seeks Stalin murder inquiry

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The great-grandson of Joseph Stalin has asked Russian authorities to attempt to solve one of the 20th century's most enduring mysteries and establish whether his notorious relative died of natural causes or was murdered.

Yakov Dzhugashvili, a 33-year-old artist living in Stalin's native Georgia, believes that his great-grandfather was poisoned in 1953 by "traitors" among the Communist Party elite he presided over for nearly three decades.

He alleges that "Godless" Nikita Khrushchev, the man who succeeded Stalin, may have given the order to have his infamous relative killed.

Mr Dzhugashvili has written to President Vladimir Putin demanding an investigation over half a century after the event arguing that those involved in the alleged plot should be named and the incident officially classified as a coup d'etat.

"We need to find the truth," he told Russia's NTV. "Who was involved in this? We need to establish the level of responsibility of everyone who was involved.

"When Stalin was disposed of, Khrushchev, who reckoned himself a statesman, was able to come to power. His so-called activities were nothing but a betrayal of the interests of the state that he headed."

Stalin died on 5 March 1953 after suffering what was officially described as a brain haemorrhage and a stroke. The "Father of the People" was 73.

Mr Dzhugashvili's view that he was murdered is shared by several serious historians who have suggested that Stalin was killed with a powerful, flavourless rat poison that thins the blood vessels and causes strokes.

The sadistic secret police chief Lavrenty Beria is said to have boasted of "taking him out" and the circumstances surrounding his demise have served to stoke suspicion.

His guards were unusually told to go to bed the night before he suffered the stroke, and when the Politburo was informed of his condition, it was strangely slow to respond and grant him medical treatment.

It has variously been suggested that his underlings wanted him dead because they feared he was intent on going to war with the United States; that they were worried that they themselves would be swept away in a new wave of purges or that they wanted to head off a huge crackdown on Jews that he was apparently planning.

Mr Dzhugashvili believes his request for an investigation will be taken seriously because, he says, many Russians hold "Uncle Joe" in high esteem.

"The majority of Russian society which respects Stalin and the great state he created are seriously interested in [finding out the truth]," he said.

"The betrayal perpetrated in the Kremlin must be condemned namely there [in the Kremlin]." Mr Dzhugashvili's own grandfather was Stalin's eldest son, Yakov, who was shot escaping from a German prisoner of war camp in 1943 after Stalin spurned an offer from Adolf Hitler to trade him for a German general.

Mr Dzhugashvili has written to Mr Putin before, to request Russian citizenship, but he is reported to have never received a reply. Whether Mr Putin will respond this time remains to be seen.

Other relatives of Stalin are reported to favour leaving the ghosts of the past undisturbed.

Stalin's daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, denounced her father's regime when she defected in 1967 to the West, where she published Twenty Letters to a Friend.

She became an American citizen and changed her name to Lana Peters when she married an American architect, William Peters in 1970. But they separated after their daughter, Olga, was born.

She returned to the Soviet Union in 1984 and settled in Tbilisi, Georgia, but left for the West a second time two years later. She now lives in a retirement home in Wisconsin.