Stalin 'planned to kill Tito by infecting him with the plague'

Helen Womack
Friday 11 June 1993 23:02 BST

A RUSSIAN historian with access to KGB archives has revealed that Stalin planned to assassinate the Yugoslav leader, Josip Broz Tito, by having him injected with germs of bubonic plague. Only Stalin's own death in 1953 saved Tito from this fate.

Writing in the daily Izvestia, Dmitry Volkogonov said the Soviet dictator made up his mind to 'liquidate' Tito after he fell out with him in 1948. Stalin's secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, was not very keen on the idea but knew better than to argue with his brutal and paranoid boss, so a plot codenamed 'Scavenger' was hatched during a meeting of senior KGB officers in Vienna in 1952.

The officers wrote to Stalin nominating a man called Yosif Grigulievich or 'Max', a Soviet citizen who passed himself off as a Costa Rican diplomat, for the job of administering the plague, and suggested three ways in which he might do this. He could seek an audience with Tito and, at close quarters, shoot a deadly pellet into him using a 'noiseless mechanism hidden in his suit'. He could follow Tito on a trip to London and, at a reception at the Yugoslav embassy there, shoot him while throwing tear-gas bombs to distract the other guests. Or he could send Tito a present - for example a jewellery box which, when opened, would squirt the poison into the Yugoslav leader's face.

'This all sounds like the plot of a racy detective thriller,' Mr Volkogonov said. 'But it's not the scenario for an adventure film, it's the authentic thinking of the leadership of the Ministry for State Security.'

Mr Volkogonov, a military historian who advises President Boris Yeltsin, said he doubted 'Max' had volunteered for this mission as, if one of the first two plans was adopted, he would be unlikely to escape. 'Max' was supposed to leave a letter saying he killed Tito from motives of personal hatred, to hide Moscow's involvement.

Stalin apparently expressed reservations about the plot. He wondered whether 'Max' was up to the job since his only terrorist experience had been in a failed attempt to shoot Trotsky. And he doubted the feasibility of injecting Tito with germs. (He should not have been so sceptical. A poison-tipped umbrella worked perfectly on the Bulgarian Georgy Markov.) Nevertheless, Stalin gave the go-ahead and preparations for the killing began. But in March 1953 Stalin died. Beria, fearing he would be blamed for the plot to kill Tito, cancelled it.

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